As a fan of the 1972 novel Watership Down by Richard Adams and the ridiculously surreal and violent 1978 animated film adaptation, I was excited to hear that Netflix and the BBC were producing their own four-part mini-series.
All in all, I enjoyed it despite a number of issues bugged me.
The story, this time directed by Noam Murro, follows a group of rabbits led by Hazel and Fiver, who leave their old warren after Fiver receives a vision that it will be destroyed.
Along the way, they suffer many dangers in the form of humans, predators, and even other rabbits.
Eventually, they find their new home on the titular Watership Down but are soon forced to defend their home from a greater threat.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. Firstly, the animation was terrible, with character models being dull and hard to tell apart half the time. The rabbits’ movements also looked looking quite stiff and forced – especially during major fight scenes (of which there are a few).
There were also a bunch of pointless little changes made to characters and events from the book.
Some characters, like Strawberry, are almost unrecognisable, while others have their roles completely reversed. While most people won’t notice these, I found it annoying as someone who’s familiar with the book.
Thankfully, there is plenty of good to outweigh the bad. Firstly, Blackberry and Bluebell are the cutest couple ever.
On a serious note, the cast is amazing, with This series boasts big British talent such as James McAvoy, John Boyega and Peter Capaldi. all of whom do an amazing job in their respective roles. The music too, while tragically lacking any Art Garfunkel from the ‘78 movie, is also top- notch.
Another improvement on the source material is the Next, the series makes some changes which are definitely an improvement on the source material, namely its treatment of female characters.
In the book, female characters are basically objects. The main characters spend whole scenes discussing how they need females to dig their holes for them and produce children to populate the warren. When they finally arrive, they are immediately forgotten about.
While some of this remains in the series, the females are given much more agency and are now actual characters instead of props. Two stand-outs are Clover and Hyzenthlay who each play major roles in the story and are shown to be just as brave and cunning as their male counterparts. It’s not perfect but it’s a big step up.
One last point can be either a positive or negative, depending on your point of view.
The series is nowhere near as graphic as the book or even the animated film. In both, rabbits are ripping each other’s throats out, predators tear rabbits to pieces, and there is no attempt to hide the violence and death the rabbits face.
In the series, I think I only ever saw blood three times (two of which were part of a dream sequence) and any death is kept clean or off camera. It’s still not what you’d call kiddie-friendly but it’s definitely highly sanitised.
In short, Watership Down is definitely worth a watch. It’s not perfect but is still a job well done.