The 1978 children’s movie Watership Down is, to this day, a harrowing tale shown regularly on British television that’s taught generations of children the unabashed truth about life and death through its countryside-set story of a warren of rabbits battling to survive (both amongst themselves and against human intervention). Richard Adams’ original 1972 novel has not only sold over 50 million copies, but spawned said animated film – featuring the voices of John Hurt and the late Richard Briers, as well as a 39-episode television series in 1999.
As with many cherished films/TV shows, that story of a rabbit colony’s struggle against humans threatening their way of life is being revisited and will be retold to a new generation. In this case, as a Netflix/BBC miniseries.
Deadline report that streaming service Netflix have teamed up with the BBC to produce a four-part miniseries that will retell the Watership Down story. Already there are a host of big names attached to lend their voices, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ John Boyega, Sir Ben Kingsley (The Jungle Book), Gemma Arterton (The Voices), James McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse), and Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road). It will debut on BBC One in the UK and will be available to international audiences via Netflix. The new series will be written by My Mad Fat Diary’s Tom Bidwell and directed by 300: Rise of an Empire‘s Noam Murro.
BBC Drama Commissioning Editor Matthew Read has issued the following statement about the project:
“Before there was Harry Potter there was Watership Down, Richard Adams’ novel is one of the most successful books of all time and one of the biggest-selling books in history. It is fantastic to have the opportunity to bring a modern classic to a mainstream BBC One audience with such an incredible roster of actors alongside the talented team overseeing the animation. This fantastic take on the novel will unite the whole family, and bring this classic story to a new generation.”
The buzz around the news is already proving divisive in the online community, with opinion split on Twitter. On one hand, Watership Down is arguably due a update, especially given the digital animation technology available today. On the other, it reverts back to an age-old debate over whether a new version is absolutely necessary. A fresh take on the story will no doubt entice a new generation to experience the chilling story in what could be a much friendlier way. But is shying away from the brutal reality of life in its narrative a good thing?
The worry to existing (and likely adult) fans of the original Watership Down is that a new version will pander more towards a more accessible and therefore less impactful or gruesome angle, seeing as the 1978 film generated a number of complaints when it aired in the UK on Channel 5 last month. The beauty, if you can call it that, is the at times graphic depiction of its violence and the shocking deaths that befall unto some of the characters. Would a watered down, more ambiguous telling of Adams’ 1972 novel lose its true meaning? There are plenty of people out there who believe it’d cheapen the message it delivers to child because it somewhat prepares them for the harsh reality of adulthood.
Nonetheless, with such a solid voice cast and the backing of both the BBC and Netflix, the outcome could be something wholesome that’ll refrain from giving young children nightmares – yet retain the core themes of subtext that makes the story so compelling.
There’s currently no official release date set yet for Watership Down.