Watership Down (miniseries)
Watership Down is an adult animated television miniseries directed by Noam Murro. It is based on the 1972 novel of the same name by Richard Adams and adapted by Tom Bidwell. It was released on 22 December 2018 in the United Kingdom and internationally on Netflix the next day. The BBC broadcast comprised two back-to-back episodes per day.
Title screen for the first episode
|Based on||Watership Down|
by Richard Adams
|Screenplay by||Tom Bidwell|
|Directed by||Noam Murro|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||4|
|Running time||204 minutes (51 minutes per episode)|
|Distributor||ITV Studios Global Entertainment (International)|
|Original network||BBC One (United Kingdom)|
|Picture format||2:1 1080i|
|Original release||22 December –|
23 December 2018
Part 1 - The Journey
According to Richard Adams's Lapine mythology, the world was created long ago by the god Frith, who represents the sun. When the rabbits began multiplying out of control, Frith created the predators in order to hunt them down. However, he bestows great talents upon the rabbits, led by El-ahrairah (the Prince of a Thousand Enemies), in order to ensure their survival. Though the life of a rabbit is one of constant fear and danger, Frith reassures the rabbits that as long as they rely on their speed and wits, they will never be destroyed.
In the present day, in the Sandleford Warren in Hampshire, England, a rabbit named Hazel wakes his younger brother Fiver from a vision, where he sees machines coming to destroy the warren. Hazel, worried since previous visions have come to pass, decides to warn their Chief Rabbit, but the vagueness and forcefulness of their charge causes them to be dismissed. The brothers manage to convince some rabbits to leave the warren with them, but they are overrun by soldiers, led by Captain Holly, who consider them mutinous. Bigwig, the largest rabbit of the warren, helps them escape.
In the forest, the group is chased by a party ordered to hunt them down, only managing to escape by crossing a river to safety. Exhausted after days of wandering, the group huddles inside an abandoned church before being attacked by a flock of crows, managing to escape after Bigwig kills the leader. Afterwards, Bigwig vents his frustrations at the brothers. The next morning, a strange rabbit named Cowslip visits the group, offering them a place in his warren. Despite Fiver’s objections, the group goes to the warren. Though it is full of well-fed rabbits, morale and numbers are strangely low.
Sensing that the warren is plagued by death, Fiver convinces Hazel to leave, causing Bigwig to expel them both. Moments later, he is caught by a snare. When Fiver asks for help, Cowslip reveals that those snared are given up to a farmer in exchange for protection. The rabbits manage to free Bigwig before leaving, with a doe named Strawberry joining them. Soon after settling on Watership Down, Holly arrives and confirms Fiver’s vision. The audience is then introduced to Efrafa, a dark and cruel warren near the Down led by a massive, scarred rabbit named General Woundwort.
Part 2 - The Raid
The next morning, Holly recounts his travels to find the group to Hazel: After barely surviving the destruction of Sandleford at the hands of humans, Holly traveled across the country looking for the group before coming across an injured rabbit who warns Holly about a warren named Efrafa. As Watership Down is burrowed into, Bigwig voices his frustration at their progress as well as their lack of does. Knowing that there will be fighting between the bucks over the one doe they have, Bigwig suggests raiding a nearby farm to recruit the does there, but Hazel disagrees, shaken by Holly’s story.
A gull with an injured wing suddenly crashes in front of the group. Hazel, seeing an opportunity, insists on befriending the gull (Kehaar) in order to ask him to look for does, though the bird later refuses to help. After Dandelion and Hawkbit fight over Strawberry, Hazel goes with Fiver and Bigwig to raid the farm. At the farm, they attempt to free a doe named Clover and her friends, but they are forced to retreat after being attacked by a farm cat. Hoping to put Hazel’s mind at ease, Fiver turns to his visions, finding pain and death but assuring Hazel that the does will be freed in the next raid.
Back home, Strawberry digs out a warren for the rabbits. Kehaar flies off, overlooking the countryside and noticing a large warren before returning and informing the rabbits of the nearby warren. That night, Holly, Blackberry, and Bluebell head for the warren. On the way, however, they are stopped by Captain Orchis and his soldiers before being escorted to Efrafa. They are brought before General Woundwort, where their request for does is denied and they are imprisoned. The following night, Holly’s group makes a break for it, taking advantage of an oncoming train to aid in their escape.
At the same time, Hazel goes alone back to the farm, but finds that the cage has been moved inside the farm. He sneaks through the farmhouse and finds the does, managing to free them. When the cat attacks them, Bigwig and Fiver come to the rescue, but they are chased throughout the house while the farmers are alerted. While attempting to save Clover, Hazel is shot by the farmer and collapses into a storm drain. The others search for Hazel, but find no sign of him. In a state of limbo, Hazel is visited by the Black Rabbit of Inlé, the Lapine grim reaper, and she assures him his time has not yet come.
Part 3 - The Escape
Entering a vision in his dreams, Fiver realizes that Hazel is still alive and tells the discouraged rabbits of Hazel’s survival. As all the rabbits bicker over how to go back for Hazel, Clover uses the opportunity to sneak off and search for Hazel in the dense fog outside the warren. Clover manages to find Hazel in the drainage ditch. Hearing Bigwig nearby, Clover leaves Hazel to seek for his help, but this results in her being captured by Efrafan soldiers and taken to Efrafa. Bigwig, in turn, finds Hazel, and helps him return to Watership Down, where Kehaar plucks fragments of the bullet in Hazel’s hind leg.
A plan is hatched to infiltrate Efrafa and save Clover and the imprisoned does at Efrafa, with Bigwig chosen to infiltrate the warren while Kehaar provides air support for the rabbits to cover for the escape. Before the plan can be fully realized, however, a fox attacks the group and Bigwig unintentionally leads it to an Efrafan scouting party, resulting in the deaths of some of its members. At Efrafa, Clover is inducted into the ranks of the rebellious does, most of whom have grown defeated or disillusioned. She is soon called to General Woundwort’s quarters, where she is offered the role of queen.
Bigwig arrives at Efrafa pretending to be a wandering rabbit, and is quickly inducted into their ranks as a soldier due to the recent losses amongst the Efrafans caused by Holly’s train and Bigwig’s fox. Bigwig quickly finds Clover and tells her of their plans to escape while Hazel and the others wait at the edge of the warren for them. After meeting and earning the trust of Hyzenthlay, the leader of the Efrafan does, Bigwig attempts an escape from the warren alongside them, but they are caught while waiting for Kehaar, who never shows. This causes the group to start losing hope, with many considering turning back home in defeat.
Hyzenthlay is blamed for the escape plan and sentenced to execution. Clover tries to reason with Woundwort, offering to join him as queen if he spares Hyzenthlay’s life, though Woundwort shows indifference and rejects Clover’s offer. At the execution, Bigwig is ordered to provide the role of executioner in order to prove his loyalty to Efrafa. He declines, fighting the soldiers and helping the does escape from Efrafa. They reunite with Hazel’s group as a storm brews, but before they can head back to the Down, they are surrounded by Efrafan soldiers. Woundwort marches forward, challenging Bigwig to a battle to the death.
Part 4 - The Siege
A flashback revealing the origins of General Woundwort opens the episode. In the present, General Woundwort faces Bigwig and the Watership Down rabbits escaping from Efrafa, shortly before Kehaar then comes to the rescue. In the confusion, Hazel and the group make a run for it and manage to hide in a nearby human village. The next morning, the rabbits thank Kehaar for his bravery, who counts the debt paid from his recovery before flying off, promising to return in the future. The rabbits then return to Watership Down, though their victory is short-lived after coming across an Efrafa scouting party some time later.
Hazel meets with Woundwort to strike a deal, but Woundwort shrugs him off, thinking he is dealing with a lame rabbit rather than with Bigwig, whom he believes to be Chief Rabbit. Watership Down prepares to fight Woundwort, who means to starve them into submission with a siege. However, he grows impatient as his soldiers begin to question his motives. The warren is stormed, both sides clash and many are wounded, with Holly being killed in the struggle. The tunnels are collapsed and most of the rabbits retreat to the middle of the warren, with Hazel and Bigwig meaning to pull off a final stand in order to buy the others more time.
After suffering a vision, Fiver and Hazel head to the farm, where they mean to free the dog and lead it back to the warren while Bigwig stands his ground against Woundwort. Arriving at the farm, Fiver manages to free the dog, but is captured by the farm cat. Hazel is forced to abandon Fiver and lead the dog back to the warren, where it manages to kill Orchis before confronting Woundwort. Rabbit and dog lunge for each other though Woundwort's fate is left unknown. Many days later, the farmer’s daughter returns Fiver to the wild, allowing him to come home and reunite with his friends. This event convinces Hazel of humanity's capacity for good.
Years pass and the warren is shown to be prospering, with families made among the rabbits. One evening, an elderly Hazel enjoys some silence by a nearby creek. An aged Fiver comes and says goodbye to his brother, sensing Hazel's upcoming death. Hazel is then visited by the Black Rabbit, who invites him to join her Owsla, assuring him of Watership Down's perpetual safety and future. Reassured, Hazel accepts and dies peacefully. Outside the warren, Bluebell tells members of the warren Hazel’s story (starting with the opening paragraph of the novel). Nearby, Fiver listens to the story before looking up at the sky, where a rabbit-shaped cloud floats on, symbolizing Hazel’s spirit running forever.
- James McAvoy as Hazel
- Nicholas Hoult as Fiver
- John Boyega as Bigwig
- Ben Kingsley as General Woundwort
- Tom Wilkinson as Threarah
- Gemma Arterton as Clover
- Peter Capaldi as Kehaar
- Olivia Colman as Strawberry
- Mackenzie Crook as Hawkbit
- Anne-Marie Duff as Hyzenthlay
- Taron Egerton as El-Ahrairah
- Freddie Fox as Captain Holly
- James Faulkner as Frith
- Lee Ingleby as Captain Campion
- Miles Jupp as Blackberry
- Daniel Kaluuya as Bluebell
- Rory Kinnear as Cowslip
- Craig Parkinson as Sergeant Sainfoin
- Rosamund Pike as Black Rabbit of Inlé
- Daniel Rigby as Dandelion
- Jason Watkins as Captain Orchis
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Captain Vervain
- Lorraine Bruce as Farmer's Wife
- Gemma Chan as Dewdrop
- Lizzie Clark as Haystack
- Rosie Day as Thethuthinnang
- Henry Goodman as Blackavar
- Peter Guinness as Silverweed
- Murray McArthur as Farmer
- Sam Redford as Man
- Charlotte Spencer as Nettle
|No.||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original release date||UK viewers|
|1||"The Journey"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||22 December 2018||4.64|
|Concerned by troubling visions his brother has about an encroaching threat, Hazel and several other rabbits set out in search of a new safe haven.|
|2||"The Raid"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||22 December 2018||4.64|
|Efforts to liberate female rabbits to join the new warren lead to trouble for its members. At Hazel's behest, Fiver endures another haunting vision.|
|3||"The Escape"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||23 December 2018||N/A|
|The rabbits plan a daring rescue from Efrafa that requires crafty infiltration by Bigwig. Questions arise about loyalty amongst the female captives.|
|4||"The Siege"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||23 December 2018||N/A|
|Hazel and the others finally find a place to settle. But General Woundwort and the Efrafa rabbits launch a costly full-scale attack on the new warren.|
In July 2014, it was announced that the BBC would be airing a new animated miniseries based on the novel. In April 2016, it was announced that the series would be a co-production between the BBC and Netflix, and would consist of four one hour episodes. The series has a budget of £20 million. The rest of the voice cast was announced in November 2018.
Watership Down received generally positive reviews, with praise for the narrative and performances of its voice cast, but receiving criticism for its tone and the quality of the computer animation, described as "soulless" and "clunky". On Rotten Tomatoes, the miniseries has an approval rating of 77% based on reviews from 22 critics, with its critical consensus reading "Though its animation leaves something to be desired, Watership Down is a faithful adaptation that will resonate with viewers of any age." On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 76 out of 100 based on 5 critics, indicating "generally favourable reviews".
The Guardian and The Independent both gave it two stars out of five, calling the production "tame, drab and deeply unsatisfying." and "spectacularly ho-hum – less tooth and claw than head shake."
The Times was more positive, giving it three stars out of five, writing "this was a meaty, lovingly made production that, spread over two days, felt far too long." While the New York Times noted that though the adaptation "fails its potential, it benefits from strong voice performances and a solid central story. Even this easy-listening version, which lays on the romance, jokes and limp dialogue, has moments of grandeur and the sweep of a fantasy epic."
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- White, Peter (1 November 2018). "'Watership Down': Rosamund Pike, Peter Capaldi, Gemma Chan & Taron Egerton Join Cast As First Images Revealed". Deadline. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
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- Mangan, Lucy (23 December 2018). "Watership Down review – CGI rabbits can't save this Christmas turkey". Retrieved 12 February 2019 – via www.theguardian.com.
- "The BBC's Watership Down reboot simply isn't scary enough". The Independent. 10 December 2018. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
- Midgley, Carol (24 December 2018). "TV review: Watership Down; King Gary". Retrieved 12 February 2019 – via www.thetimes.co.uk.
- Poniewozik, James (20 December 2018). "Review: A Watered-Down 'Watership Down' on Netflix". Retrieved 12 February 2019 – via NYTimes.com.
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