Title screen for the first episode
|Based on||Watership Down|
by Richard Adams
|Written by||Tom Bidwell|
|Directed by||Noam Murro|
|Music by||Federico Jusid|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||4|
|Running time||50-51 minutes|
|Distributor||ITV Studios Global Entertainment (International)|
|Original network||BBC One (United Kingdom)|
|Picture format||2:1 1080i|
|Original release||22 December -|
23 December 2018
Watership Down is an adult animated action adventure-drama fantasy thriller 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.
In July 2014, it was announced that BBC would be airing a new animated miniseries of Watership Down based on the 1972 novel and the 1978 film. In April 2016, it was announced that the series would be a co-production between 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.
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|No.||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original release date||UK viewers|
|1||"The Journey"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||22 December 2018||4.64|
|According to Richard Adams's Lapine mythology, the world was created long ago by the god Frith, who represents the sun. When the rabbits begin multiplying out of control, Frith creates the predators in order to hunt them down. However, he bestows great talents upon the rabbits, led by El-ahrairah (the "Prince with 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 and strongest of the rabbits, 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 on a bin lid. Exhausted after days of wandering, the group huddles inside an abandoned church before being attacked by a flock of crows. They finally manage to escape after Bigwig immediately kills the crow leader. Afterwards, Bigwig vents his frustrations at the brothers. The next morning, a strange rabbit named Cowslip visits the group, offering them a place to spend the night 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 shun them both. Moments later, he is caught by a snare and starts to suffocate. 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, an injured and scarred Holly arrives and confirms Fiver's vision. The audience is then introduced to Efrafa, a dark and cruel abandoned coal mine near the Down led by General Woundwort, a massive, scarred rabbit.|
|2||"The Raid"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||22 December 2018||4.64|
|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 seagull with an injured wing suddenly crashes in front of the group and Hazel, seeing an opportunity, insists on befriending the bird in order to ask him to look for does, though the seagull, whose name is Kehaar, 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 the 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 Efrafan 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 in the leg 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.|
|3||"The Escape"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||23 December 2018||N/A|
|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 out fragments of the bullet in Hazel's hind leg with his beak. A plan is hatched to infiltrate Efrafa and save Clover and the imprisoned does at Efrafa, with Bigwig chosen to infiltrate the warren and act as an Efrafan guard while Kehaar provides air support for the rabbits to cover for the escape. Before the plan can be fully realized, a huge fox attacks the group, but Bigwig unintentionally manages to lead it away 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 the train and the 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 up. This causes the group to start losing hope, with many considering turning back home in defeat. Hyzenthlay is accused 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 the executioner in order to prove his loyalty to Efrafa. He declines, fighting off the soldiers and helping the does escape from Efrafa. They reunite with Hazel's group as a thunderstorm brews, but before they can head back to the Down, they are confronted and surrounded by Efrafan soldiers. Woundwort walks forward, challenging Bigwig to a battle to the death.|
|4||"The Siege"||Noam Murro||Tom Bidwell||23 December 2018||N/A|
|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 and fights off the Efrafans. In the confusion, Hazel and the group manage to escape and 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 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 the Chief Rabbit. Watership Down prepares to fight Woundwort and his Efrafan army, 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 getting 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 Fiver has another vision, he and Hazel head to the farm, where they decide to free the farm dog and lead it back to the warren while Bigwig fights Woundwort. Arriving at the farm, Fiver manages to free the dog, but is attacked and captured by the farm cat. Hazel is forced to abandon his brother and lures the dog back to the warren, where it faces off with Woundwort. Both animals lunge for each other although Woundwort's fate is left unknown, assuming that he was slain by the dog or has survived. 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 and Kehaar arrives to visit his friends. One evening, an elderly Hazel enjoys some silence by a nearby creek. An older 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 passes away 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.|
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."