Watership Down miniseries on Netflix


Television


Back in late December, the new BBC miniseries adaptation of Watership Down was released on Netflix for international distribution the (trailer is on YouTube). As someone who both grew up reading the book and saw the 1978 film as a kid, I can safely say that if you haven't seen this latest adaptation then you are missing out.

It's a 4-part miniseries and each episode is just under an hour. It is very well done, and quite faithful to the book. I can't get enough of it.

Obviously there are some changes but not many that I would call significant. The overall structure of the story is intact with all of it's major subplots, and all but one of the major events in the book survive intact, though as with a lot of film and TV adaptations they alter portions of the timeline for dramatic purposes. Most impressive, though, is how many of the small details from the book are there, everything from lines of dialogue, to the mythology, to Lapine, to background stuff that you'd not notice unless the book was fresh in your head. I went back and re-read the story, and re-watched the '78 movie, and walked away even more impressed with this miniseries.

The biggest changes are making Strawberry a doe instead of a buck (this helped condense part of the story), expanding the story of the does in Efrafa, and altering a chase sequence. I didn't miss the latter, and greatly appreciated seeing the does become something more than just objects needed for breeding. They are given agency with actual roles to play in the story, the only real shortcoming in the book and one that needed fixing.

If you've seen the film:
The standout moment was Holly's retelling of the destruction of the Sandlewood Warren, and that sequence was responsible for its reputation for traumatizing children. It's been toned down for the miniseries, but this is still not something for young kids. And while the writers backed off on that, they upped the psychological impact of Fiver's visions, making them far more haunting, fragmented, and frightening.

It's also less bloody than the film, but not any less violent. Bigwig's fight with Woundwort is particularly brutal. Again, still not a story for young kids.

There's been some talk about the quality of the animation. It is definitely uneven. Most of the time it is beautifully rendered, but there are moments when it degrades to a video game quality. It may or may not pull you out of the story. I noticed it when it happened, but quickly forgot about it as the scenes progressed. The high moments, though, are very high. There are times when you could swear you're watching a camera following real rabbits, and when the rabbits fight, it is disturbing (and if you've seen real rabbits fight, you'll recognize it as disturbingly real).

High points:

* Ben Kingsley as Woundwort is about the best casting decision ever
* Peter Capaldi is nothing short of brilliant as Kehaar
* If the opening sequence to episode 4 doesn't tear you up then you are dead inside
* Hyzenthlay is the badass she always should have been
* Bigwig pretty much all the time
* The farmer hunting the rabbits is a truly frightening and tense scene (again, not for kids!)


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Woundwort is an excellent villain. I think it is implied that win or lose, that dog is limping home.


Spoiler:
"Later--after it had left Woundwart--the dog beat up and down the bank and the open grass for some time [...] But by now the Efrafans had had time to scatter and hide, as best they could. Besides, the dog, unexpectedly scratched and bitten, showed a certain reluctance to come to grips."

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