I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see how the BBC’s new adaptation of Richard Adams’ Watership Down would turn out. With the original novel’s captivating story and incredible characters, it’s a story that has touched the hearts of millions and has become a modern classic. And, in simple terms, I have to admit that I felt the new 2018 reboot was an enjoyable, though somewhat problematic, adaptation of the original novel.
Before I get into it, I should really give a short summary before diving into my thoughts on the adaptation. I’ll break it up into parts and follow the summary with my thoughts on each part. Let’s do it!
Part I – The Journey
The first episode opens with a narrator telling the story of the Lapine myth “The Story of the Blessing of El-ahrairah.” When the story is over, we see the main protagonist, Hazel, looking for his brother Fiver (Lapine name: “Hrairoo”) in a warren called Sandleford. Fiver is sleeping restlessly in their burrow, having a nightmare, when Hazel wakes him and they go to feed in the field.
Fiver sees a notice board in the field and starts to have a vision, telling his brother that the field is covered with blood in the light of the sunset. He warns of something “foul and fierce” that will destroy Sandleford. Hazel, knowing his brother has never been wrong about these visions, goes with him to see the Chief Rabbit, who dismisses them both. During this scene we are introduced to Bigwig (Lapine name: “Thlayli”), who believes Fiver is right. Gathering a small group of friends, Hazel and Fiver flee Sandleford, the warren’s police force pursuing them.
Along the way to the hill (Watership Down) Fiver wants them to find for shelter, they eventually meet a rabbit called Cowslip, who invites them to join his warren. Fiver has a bad feeling about both Cowslip and the warren, but the others don’t listen and go anyway. While there, the group realizes that the warren’s population is much smaller than expected and that Cowslip and the others act strangely, such as avoiding basically all questions and praying to strange objects. Finally, Fiver listens to a poem being told by a warren member and flips out, fleeing to the outside. When Hazel and Bigwig run after him, Bigwig gets caught in a snare set nearby and nearly dies. Luckily, Hazel and the others manage to save him just in time and they all escape to Watership Down, with a doe from Cowslip’s warren, Strawberry, joining them. There, they find Captain Holly (from Sandleford) who confirms that Fiver’s visions of the warren’s destruction were true and he mentions hearing about a warren called Efrafa, whereupon we see a glimpse of the story’s main antagonist, who is shrouded in darkness, before the credits roll.
In all honesty, I enjoyed this first part very much. The voice acting is great and the events of the story are followed fairly consistently, with only a few minor changes here and there. I particularly enjoyed seeing the tension between Hazel and Bigwig over who Chief Rabbit was going to be. It followed the book while also allowing Hazel to really contemplate his decisions and whether he even has the right to make them, given the situation. I also really like the fact that the show creators put the Lapine names in the story for the characters. It was so nice to hear Fiver be called “Hrairoo” or Bigwig “Thlayli” (probably my favorite Lapine name, too, honestly – I think it’s beautiful).
The voice acting was very strong here. I’ll go a bit into some of the main VAs here first.
Nicholas Hoult does a great job as Fiver, voicing his fears and anxieties clearly while also showing how he is capable of being more confident if he only tried.
Nicholas Hoult as Fiver
James McAvoy gives life to the kind-hearted Hazel, showing the character’s emotions and fears clearly, to the point where it’s hard not to empathize with him.
James McAvoy as Hazel
John Boyega gives a commanding performance as Bigwig, tapping mostly into the character’s impatient and impetuous side but also showing how he has all good intentions deep down.
John Boyega as Bigwig
And the animation…. *Sigh.* I don’t want to beat a dead horse in discussing this (it has pretty much been slammed by critics and audiences alike) but I will admit that it’s not the best. Considering the fact that the first pieces of news coming out about this were concerning how the story was to be “improved” with CGI, this is disappointing, but I personally feel that the animation itself is tolerable and it’s not too distracting – most of the time. It does at times look like a PlayStation game or a computer model, but this gets easier to bear the longer you watch. It’s only really noticeable (I think) with the human objects seen onscreen, but it didn’t bother me to the point of turning off the show and never watching it again.
As for the story itself, I have to admit that I really loved the first part. It was almost spot-on in terms of the story itself. What was added or changed also didn’t really bother me, because they were either minor or fixed a plot hole. For example, I actually liked that Hazel and all the others were chased by the Sandleford owsla before crossing the river, even though the issue was a dog being loose in the woods in the original story. The reason this doesn’t bother me is I found myself thinking while reading the book about Sandleford’s owsla, and with Holly later admitting to the group that the Threarah had ordered that Hazel and everyone else be found, I wondered when they had gone to look for the group, especially since Hazel had worried about the owsla getting wind of their plan in the novel.
Then there were the birds in the barn. In the original story, it was rats that attacked the group. This change bothered me a little bit more, because I have no idea why it was necessary, but luckily it’s a very small change. My guessing is they didn’t have enough money to animate a horde of rats (the production was only given a total of 20 million pounds, after all, and considering the voice talents they got, I imagine most of the money went to that). Then there was the issue of Bigwig calling the birds corvil. This is not a Lapine word used in the book and I don’t understand why it was necessary here. Why not just call it a bird? I could be wrong about it not being part of the language (as it was expanded upon after the book was written) but it was completely new to me, even though I caught on to what he was talking about fairly quickly.
See, I love that this adaptation used Lapine in full, including the characters’ names in the language and the words for all the man things. The issue is that the word “corva” never showed up. I know some scholars have expanded upon the language, but I failed to find the term even there. It’s a good thing the word wasn’t needed again after that, because I don’t think I would be able to pass it off as a slight change at that point.
I also want to give mention to the dream and flashback sequences used. Now, they’re extremely important, because they had a huge impact in the 1978 film when it first came out. It’s not hard to find the movie’s nightmarish dream sequences being discussed as if it’s all part of a horror flick. Again, considering what the BBC originally said about toning down the nightmarish aspect of the story, this concerned me. In both the novel and the movie Fiver’s visions of fields saturated with blood and the subsequent destruction of Sandleford are horrible to both read about and watch. It’s not supposed to be a pleasant experience.
All that said, I think they’re done decently here, even if it loses some of the original impact by removing the gore. I can’t fault them too much for this, though, because given how much the original film is remembered for the blood, of course an adaptation that does not rely on it and instead uses these trippy sequences of rabbit corpses or a bulldozer raking at the ground to instill fear in the viewers isn’t going to be the same type of fear. Fiver’s original dream of all the corpses before the tractor comes through is presented in a distorted way, making it unnerving, yet at the same time a little difficult to process what may be felt at that time. If it had been blood, I think the shock value the viewers would experience would have spoken for itself (and already did in the 1978 film). Because of this, I have a hard time pinning down how I feel about Fiver’s dreams. They’re done as faithfully as they can be, but I don’t know how to react. But I do think this feeling of mine fits the situation, since when he had the vision in the novel, I didn’t know how to feel then, either. I was mostly perplexed, and I think that was the intention for both this adaptation and the original story. After all, at this point in the story, we don’t know Fiver (if watching for the first time without having read the book) so why automatically say, “He’s right! We’ve got to get out of here!”?
I also need to talk a bit about Cowslip’s warren before moving on. This was a scenario that I wondered a lot about when I first heard about the remake. This concern is especially prevalent with Bigwig getting caught in the snare at the end of the section, because in both the novel and the 1978 film, the fear and disturbing aspects of the event were driven by violence. In this case, unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by Cowslip’s warren. Bigwig struggling in the snare and losing his ability to breathe wasn’t as impactful because in both the novel and the film he was practically vomiting blood and his eyes were rolling back into his head, making the entire scene agonizing. Here, I wasn’t really affected by what happened because we didn’t see much of Bigwig struggling. I understand wanting to lay off the blood, but they could have at least showed his eyes closing or rolling back into his head to drive what is supposed to be a near-death experience home. And they actually show a little blood in a later part, so it’s not like they couldn’t do something here, even if it only lasted two seconds.
While on the subject of the warren, I was also disappointed that this longer miniseries couldn’t squeeze other El-ahrairah tales in, even if it’s just Bluebell or Dandelion telling the story to a small group of friends. This series took the route of the 1978 film, telling one tale and then that was it. And I really wish they hadn’t. They had all this extra time! Leave the discovery of Holly to Part II and go through at least one tale. Because, then, the characters aren’t just following the story laid out – they are giving a glimpse into what drives and motivates them so that we care even more when they are following the story.
But, all that said, I’m still not mad about the first part at all. Despite the complaints I’ve outlined here, there is something about this first part that just makes it really enjoyable, even if there are some hiccups in the storytelling. Overall I would say that it’s a fairly nice start to the series
Part II – The Raid
Part II opens with Holly telling Hazel about what happened at Sandleford. We get a nightmarish sequence of the warren being destroyed before Holly moves on to talking about his journey to the down, where he meets a rabbit that mentions a warren called Efrafa before telling him to run quickly to get away from this warren.
After the title sequence, we start to see how the rabbits are adjusting to life on the down, when Hawkbit and Dandelion start arguing over who gets to mate with Strawberry. Hazel and the others quickly realize that they won’t survive with just one doe on the down, as they all feel the urge to mate. While arguing over whether they should go to the nearby Nuthanger farm to free does, a seagull, Kehaar, crash-lands on the hill. Hazel, realizing this bird could help them to find other places where there might be does, has everyone help nurse Kehaar back to health.
Once Kehaar is sheltered and fed, Hawkbit and Dandelion almost get into a physical fight over who gets to mate with Strawberry. Bigwig breaks it up before anyone gets hurt, and Hazel agrees to go to Nuthanger farm to free the rabbits there. The next day, Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig all set off while Kehaar leaves the down in hopes of returning to the sea. He fails, having injured his wing before he arrived, and tells the rabbits that there is a warren to the east of the down. Back at the farm, Hazel and Fiver try to help the hutch rabbits escape, when Bigwig is attacked by the farmer’s cat, forcing them all to flee the farm with the hutch rabbits still trapped.
Meanwhile, Holly, Bluebell, and Blackberry decide to go to the warren that Kehaar mentioned in the hopes of bringing some does back. Along the way, they are captured by an Efrafan patrol, where they are sent to see the council and be marked, a practice where they are scratched and identified by the scar left behind. Here, Holly meets Hyzenthlay, who tells him that in escape is highly unlikely to be successful. Later that night, Holly, Bluebell, and Blackberry make a run for it. The Efrafan owsla pursue them, but are cut off by a train, allowing them to make it back to the down safely.
At the same time as the escape, Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig go to the farm again to free the hutch rabbits, only to realize that they were moved inside the house. Hazel goes in and manages to free the rabbits, only for the cat to wake up and chase them. When the cat has them cornered, Bigwig rushes in to help, buying them time to get away, but the commotion also gets the attention of the family living there. They make a break for it, the farmer now chasing them with his gun. When the farmer moves to shoot Clover, Hazel distracts him and takes the bullet instead. Later on, the Black Rabbit of Death visits Hazel, telling him that it is not his time to walk with her. The episode ends with Hazel regaining consciousness.
Okay. This episode was pretty good, but again, there are some hiccups I need to discuss here as well.
First, the good points. I really enjoyed seeing a bit of conflict between Hawkbit and Dandelion over who would get to mate with Strawberry. The book frequently mentioned how buck rabbits would fight each other for does if there weren’t enough to mate with, but it was more of a background thing that really just influenced Hazel’s ideas to go to the farm and send an expedition to Efrafa. Seeing two of the characters actually almost come to blows over it was chilling. While Adams was a good enough writer to be able drive home the importance of the Watership rabbits needing to mate without the violence, if it hadn’t happened this way here, I don’t think I would have appreciated its importance as much. See, Adams worked around this by showing that the rabbits originally hadn’t given thought to this because reaching Fiver’s hills had been all about surviving, meaning everything else was put on the back burner for them. Then, when they all got there, Hazel was the first one to think about it because he saw the warren falling into place and they only had one or two does at the time, but fighting hadn’t broken out yet. The miniseries also gave them one doe by flipping Strawberry’s gender around, allowing all of the warren to fully realize their predicament at around the same time by initiating conflict with it.
Speaking of the down, I have to mention one new character that came in shortly after the rabbits arrived: the seagull Kehaar.
Peter Capaldi as Kehaar
Now, before I get into it, I need to throw this out there real quick: I have no problem with Peter Capaldi’s performance. He does fairly well in the role, showing the bird’s feelings and exotic sort of nature clearly while also tapping into Kehaar’s more awesome side later on. The problem that I have is with the way the character is written. In the book, Kehaar is largely a comic relief character who becomes very good friends with Bigwig and helps the Watership rabbits out of genuine friendship, even though he can be a little impatient with them from time to time.
Here’s the problem. The miniseries got the way Hazel and the others saved Kehaar correct, sheltering the bird and giving him food, just as they did in the novel, but Bigwig was never fascinated with Kehaar like the way he was in the book. And Kehaar never showed signs of warming up to Bigwig either. In the book, Kehaar thought Bigwig had a great personality and they bonded by talking about their lives and just spending time together. Bigwig liked the bird immediately, and he was never impatient with him.
On Kehaar’s side, the bird genuinely enjoyed being in the rabbits’ company because they treated him well and he genuinely grew to like them in the book. In the miniseries, it’s obvious that he’s just doing what he’s doing for something in return rather than actually getting to know the rabbits and enjoying being there because they were good friends to him. Yes, the rabbits were originally only helping him for their own benefit, but he never took issue with this because they treated him well and made sure that he was comfortable after all he’d been through with him having been attacked just before coming to the down. In the adaptation, he refuses at first to help them even when they’ve helped him and it was really rather annoying to see him harbor this sort of distaste for them. Not a very faithfully-written character, which is really a shame.
Okay. I need to switch gears and move on to Efrafa. As I said in the summary, Holly, Blackberry, and Bluebell all set off for the warren Kehaar mentioned, not realizing the trouble they would be getting into. This is slightly different from the book (as Hazel had organized the original trip to Efrafa – here, Holly and company pretty much decide to go on their own) but I’m letting these smaller changes pass because I don’t feel they change the main essence of the story. So I’ve got nothing of significance to say here.
That changes when they actually get kidnapped by an Efrafan patrol (led by Captain Orchis – I’ll talk more about him in Parts III and IV) and are taken to the warren. Okay – if I don’t mention this, someone else will. The portrayal of Efrafa drew criticism from Richard Adams’ daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, who objected to it being depicted as a fascist concentration camp. And I’m not about to say that they’re wrong in feeling that way – if their father never intended it to be taken that way, fine. But I do think this was just director Naom Murro’s interpretation and, even though I have my own issues with it (which I’ll outline in a bit) I do think it was a good thing in some aspects. When I first read the book, Efrafa did remind me of Nazi Germany, and it’s hard to ignore that with how much Adams has admitted to having taken inspiration from his war experience. I mean, he even drew from a specific event (the Battle of Arnhem), so it doesn’t seem like that big of a leap for Murro to take in interpreting the story. Personally, when I first read the book I believed that General Woundwort was just Hitler in a rabbit’s body. And I still do kind of believe that, because I just personally see Efrafa as this terrifying police state where a Big Brotheresque figure forces people to stay in line or they would suffer consequences. Murro, however, does go a little overboard with this interpretation, which I’ll talk about more in Part III.
Now, before I go on, I have to talk a little bit about Efrafa’s chief rabbit.
Ben Kingsley as General Woundwort
In the book, General Woundwort was first mentioned by Holly after his escape from the place, all of which he recounts in a way that makes the general seem like this distant, but looming, threat. That being said, I actually don’t have that much of a problem with him being seen in Part II, because we already got the hint of him in Part I. Ben Kingsley brings the character to life, making him genuinely terrifying with just his voice alone. In the book, Adams built up the fear of this character by Holly telling Bigwig that he didn’t think he would match up to the fascist leader in a fight. This is a very small hint that Adams used to foreshadow Bigwig’s eventual battle with Woundwort and it established the villain well, even if it was from a distance. I’ll be able to discuss Woundwort’s character in more depth in Part III.
I also need to briefly discuss the escape itself. This was done pretty faithfully, with Holly and his comrades being chased by the Efrafans only to be cut off by the train and that train cutting down the officers. The way Holly set up the escape (with him and the others just running) wasn’t done the way it was in the book, but Holly’s original conversation with one of the officers was most likely cut for time and to keep the tension up, since it was set up in the miniseries to occur around the same time as the escape from the farm.
Overall, the tension in this episode was captured very well and I really enjoyed how it kept me on the edge of my seat through the whole thing, even when I didn’t love certain things about it.
Part III – The Escape
This episode opens with Fiver having a nightmare about Hazel, in which a man mocks him, gloating how men destroyed Sandleford and telling him that Hazel is trapped “in the hole.” Fiver wakes, and the title is shown.
At Efrafa, Captain Orchis tells General Woundwort that he wants Hyzenthlay destroyed because her escape attempts got his brother, Vervain, killed. The General tells him that all they have to do is “break” her to succeed in foiling any future escape attempts by the does.
We cut back to the down and see that all of the Watership rabbits have gathered in the warren’s Honeycomb (meeting place) and are discussing what’s to be done about both the loss of Hazel and the nearby Efrafa. Clover, extremely worried and devastated, goes out to look for him on her own. She finds him, but Efrafans patrolling nearby take her back to the warren before she and Hazel can even start getting back to the down. Bigwig, who had gone after Clover, finds Hazel and they head back. After Kehaar removes the bullets from Hazel’s hind leg, Hazel tells the others that they all are leaving for Efrafa by morning. The next day, on the way, they discuss who should infiltrate the warren and ultimately decide on Bigwig, when they see a fox and run for cover while Bigwig draws it off, accidentally leading it onto Efrafans patrolling the area. The fox kills an officer just as Bigwig makes a break for it and heads to Efrafa. There, we see the General come above ground and demand that Clover be taken to his burrow, where he asks her to be his queen.
Back with Bigwig, Sanfoin leads him around, telling him that as an Officer, he can request that any doe joins him in his burrow at any time, when Bigwig sees Clover and goes to feed and talk to her, where they agree to go to Hyzenthlay for help. Hyzenthlay agrees to help and the does meet up with Bigwig later that evening, when they are caught by two officers. They then plan to escape the next night, but Hyzenthlay is taken away to be executed. Meanwhile, Clover demands to see the General and agrees to be his queen if Hyzenthlay is kept alive. Woundwort refuses and Clover leaves.
Meanwhile, Hyzenthlay talks with Orchis about being his spy, only for him to order her to be killed by sundown. Leaving the burrow, Hyzenthlay sees another one of the does, Nettle, telling the officers everything about the escape. Back with Bigwig, he comes across a group of officers who ask him for a story. He starts to tell one, only for Orchis to cut him off and accuse him of being from “the other warren” (Watership Down). Later that night, Bigwig is told to kill Hyzenthlay just as the does rise up against the guarding officers. Bigwig refuses and runs off with Hyzenthlay to get Blackavar and they all flee, the Efrafans chasing them. They are eventually cornered, when Bigwig meets the General for the first time. Woundwort tells Bigwig he’ll enjoy killing him, and the episode ends.
Here we go. On to Efrafa!
I was worried about how they were going to give the does a more prominent role in this series, because I thought that meant that they would greatly change the storyline to fit it in. That being said, I actually like what they did with the does here… for the most part. Doug Walker (AKA the Nostalgia Critic) once said that one way a remake can be successful is if it takes a concept from the original source and expands upon it in a way that provokes thoughtful messages. While he was mainly talking about movies, this could easily apply to book-to-movie (or in this case miniseries) adaptations. Here, we are given a more in-depth look into the torture the does are enduring at the hands of the Efrafans, and it makes the escape all the more desperate. While I personally loved that Big Brother-like atmosphere from the book, this technique worked for this particular medium by heightening the does’ fears and making it harder for them to trust in a manner that was completely understandable, since you don’t really have access to their inner thoughts with this medium. The conditions in Efrafa were awful, so who wouldn’t be both fearful and desperate to get out?
While on the subject of Efrafa, I need to discuss the General and his treatment of Clover.
Gemma Arterton as Clover
Like I said, this series tried expanding upon a concept that Adams was originally only able to hint at: sex slavery. And, given the fact that two young children were listening to his story, it is not surprising that he took the subtler route with it. Personally, I liked that this type of mistreatment of the does was brought more into the limelight here. The General trying to convince Clover to be his “queen” was absolutely chilling. It was obvious that she was terrified of him and he knew it and was able to use that to his advantage, thinking she would easily submit to him with little argument. So, when she came back with the condition that she would agree as long as Hyzenthlay lived, his turning it around and telling her there was nothing to be discussed and saying he didn’t actually care about her just made him look even more like a tyrant.
And perhaps my biggest bone to pick with Efrafa’s police force: Captain Orchis… *Groan* In this adaptation, he is given the role that Vervain usually fills as the most-hated officer in Efrafa. And I have to ask: Why flip their roles around? I can understand making them brothers, which helps to drive home the hatred Orchis feels for Hyzenthlay and the Watership rabbits later on, but since Vervain is shown in this adaptation, why not give him the role he originally had? Or flip the VAs around, if you want Vervain to be as annoying as Orchis ended up being?
Jason Watkins as Captain Orchis
Now, Orchis himself really got me riled up, but in hindsight, that was most likely the point. He’s a selfish coward through and through and, as annoying as he was, his personality helped the idea of Efrafa being this terrible place really hit home. I really need to give his VA, Jason Watkins, credit where it’s due. The character’s voice just oozed evil and really made him look as bad as Woundwort himself was, because it was obvious that he relished the role he played in the warren and followed the General with unrelenting loyalty.
Now, there’s one point that I need to admit to not liking all that much. Like I said, I know it’s Naom Murro’s interpretation and that’s fine, but the concentration camp-like atmosphere made me pretty uncomfortable. Yes, in the book, the conditions in Efrafa were awful; no, the rabbits were not allowed to leave the warren under any circumstances; and, yes, even then it reminded me of a concentration camp when I first read the book. The problem with the way the miniseries handled it is that it’s not subtle in delivery at all. In the book, we see what it’s like for both ordinary rabbits and officers, showing that the fear is still there for both, as the officers are even afraid of Woundwort, concentrating the fear in quiet ways. The fear demonstrated in the series has no subtlety. If it had been implied, for example, rather than directly stated that the does weren’t allowed to sing, I think I’d feel better about it. It’s just too obvious, rather than trusting the small hints both the book and 1978 movie used to show the full horror of living in Efrafa where you have no freedom in exchange for absolute safety, which is ultimately why the does wanted out. By all means, keep the mistreatment of the does. But when you make obvious connections to concentration camps when they’re not really needed since you’ve established the tense atmosphere already is just overdoing it.
I will give such an interpretation this, though: it is every bit as terrifying as it should be, so even though I don’t love the interpretation of the warren, what Murro was doing was actually done well, even when it’s not right on the ball in terms of lining up with the original story. That’s what I was trying to say earlier when I mentioned Adams’ daughters: I can understand where they’re coming from, but the interpretation does actually work in driving up the fear, even though I think it’s a little too much.
Anyway, I think it’s time to move on to the final part.
Part IV – The Siege
The final section opens with a short film of the General’s backstory, with his parents being killed and his eye being severely wounded by one of the thousand enemies, causing it to go blind. After the title, we cut back to Efrafa, where the General is about to kill the escaping rabbits, when Kehaar shows up. The bird manages to scatter the Efrafan forces, allowing Hazel and the others to flee. Once safely away from Efrafa, Kehaar departs for the sea, promising to return in winter.
Back at Efrafa, the General asks his troops if any of them have concerns to voice. One speaks up, saying that he fears they’ll be risking lives by going after the Watership rabbits. Woundwort quickly shuts him down, saying that once they find the escapees, they will destroy their warren.
Once Hazel, Bigwig, and the escaped rabbits make it back to the down, things seem to fall into place and everyone is happy. One day, though, a doe catches the scent of “strange rabbits” not far off. Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig quickly realize that the Efrafans have followed them back to the warren. Hazel, fearful but still planning on going down fighting, orders the warren sealed while he goes to speak to the General in an effort to try and stop the attack. Woundwort shrugs him off and the Efrafans attack the warren. Hazel, as a last-resort, sets the Nuthanger farm dog on the Efrafan army while Bigwig holds off Woundwort, the siege ending when Woundwort’s army retreats. Years later, when it is all over and the Watership warren is back to normal and thriving, Hazel meets the Black Rabbit again, who takes him to join her owsla. The episode ends with Bluebell telling some kittens about the Watership rabbits’ adventures, marking the tale as legendary in rabbit lore.
Okay. One more time! This final part deals with the climax of the story, which Adams had written partly as this long, bloody confrontation between Bigwig and Woundwort, and I’ll get to that in a bit, but first I should cover the opening of the episode.
As I said in the summary, this section opens with a short film detailing Woundwort’s background. It’s decent enough and shows clearly what happened to him and is easy to understand. I have to ask, though, why a short film? These are rabbits and the fact that it’s shown that way kind of takes you out of the moment. A simple flashback would have worked much better in this case, since Murro can’t really give us the info dump that Adams wrote to establish the General’s character. Anyway…
I have to come back to some points I touched upon earlier. The first one I want to discuss is the General himself, because we really get to see him in action here. And, again, we see just what influence he has over his officers, making it clear that he’ll do anything to achieve absolute power. This makes his goal of finding the “outsiders” (as he calls the Watership rabbits) absolutely terrifying. Seeing him tell his officers that they will destroy the warren and that they don’t run from the enemy, but rather are the enemy, is perfectly in line with the General’s character from the book and drove up the tension in such a way that I was both scared and excited to see the final fight.
Now, Hazel going to talk to Woundwort in the hopes of stopping him was pretty spot-on in terms of how it happened in the book. I particularly like how Ben Kingsley was accentuating his words when he said the line, “We are going to destroy you.” It makes it perfectly clear that he’s not messing around and shows that he feels he needs to settle the score.
The actual battle itself was a concern for me, but I was actually on the edge of my seat throughout the whole thing. Of course, what most concerned me was the confrontation between Bigwig and Woundwort, because in the book it was essentially a fight to the death, so when I heard they would be toning down the violence, I was worried that the fight would lose its tension.
Luckily, I was wrong in thinking that, as the entire scene was actually very intense, and we actually see blood drawn, which again amplifies the overall impact. Also, I loved Bigwig’s line after he first attacked Woundwort. In Efrafa, the rabbits were marked so that they would know when they could be above ground, and it required them to be injured and identified by that injury, so Bigwig saying, “You look injured, General. How does it feel to have a mark of your own?” was extremely satisfying to hear during that first intense pause in the violence.
Speaking of awesome lines, I just need to give quick mention to a short confrontation between Campion and Orchis before going into a little more detail on Bigwig’s fight with the General.
Lee Ingleby as Captain Campion
As the General was going into the warren, he ordered Campion to follow him, but Campion refused and Woundwort ordered that Orchis kill him. It’s very short, but I really enjoyed seeing the interaction because Campion showed absolutely no fear of Orchis, even going so far as giving him this warning when Orchis tried to intimidate the others into staying: “My rank equal you may be, Orchis. But my equal in combat you are not. I strongly advise you to step away from me.” All I was thinking during this was that finally someone gave Orchis a taste of his own medicine! Given how much I hated him in this, it was so satisfying to see someone finally give it to him straight. Plus, it exposed him as the dirty coward he was, rather than the great warrior he believed himself to be.
Back to the fight, despite how much I enjoyed it, I do have one nitpick that I have to mention. In the book, Bigwig buries himself under soil in a narrow run, hoping to throw the General off guard. And here, he does the same thing, but as the fight goes on they move out into the Honeycomb. My question is, why? Adams put them in that narrow run in the book because it gave Bigwig a considerable advantage. Even if he died, his body would be too big for the Efrafans to get around, delaying their plan and allowing the dog more time to get to the hill while also protecting the other members of the warren. So why give them more room to fight? Don’t get me wrong, the whole scene is extremely intense and we even see a bit of blood, as I said. But giving them more room removes Bigwig’s ability to protect the rabbits behind him even if he’s dead, unless he moves back at the last second so that he’s right in front of the rabbits he’s protecting. I imagine they did this to make sure none of the others would get involved and it would just be Bigwig and the General, but if they had made the run longer it wouldn’t have been needed.
There is also one more thing regarding the overall battle that I really can’t get by without mentioning. Why did the Efrafans kill Captain Holly? I swear, it’s like some sort of unspoken rule in every Watership adaptation that somebody on Hazel’s side has to die. The 1978 film had Blackavar attack the General only to be completely slaughtered, and here Holly dies fighting off multiple Efrafans when his death didn’t really contribute to anything major. At least with Blackavar’s death in the film, as much as I felt it nullified Bigwig rescuing him from Efrafa in the first place, he risked his life to buy them time. Here, that just wasn’t the case.
All right. Finally I can move on from the siege and talk a bit about its aftermath. Here, Murro allowed Fiver to be rescued by the human girl while Hazel led the dog to the down. This bothered me at first, but I thought about it a bit and I think I know why it was done that way. Letting Hazel lead the dog allows Woundwort to see who the Chief really was and, as he did, he completely underestimated Hazel as leader, even when he was leading a vicious dog to attack the troops. Woundwort’s reaction is simply there to show how un-rabbit-like he really was as a character and how it’s ultimately what did him in.
And last, but certainly not least, the ending, which I honestly really loved. Basically, Hazel goes with the Black Rabbit of Inlé, signifying his peaceful passing on. Now, as if that weren’t enough to get me choked up, this series actually went one step further, fading out from the warren while we hear Bluebell telling some rabbit kittens about Hazel and Fiver’s adventures. The reason this got to me (to the point where I really wanted to cry) was that the story Bluebell told was the opening to the original novel! Someone pass the tissues, please!
“The primroses were over…” -Richard Adams.
All in all, I really enjoyed watching this miniseries. I know it sounds like I’ve done nothing but rip it apart, but it actually goes into more detail with the story and I really enjoyed watching it, even with the nitpicks I caught. We are given more time to get to know the characters and really explore some dark issues, such as the sex slavery in Efrafa, expanding upon a concept, which I covered earlier.
I’m just wondering how this was put in the kids’ section on Netflix!
If you’re a fan of the book, movie, or even the 1990s TV series, this is definitely worth checking out. If nothing else, it’s a dramatic, engaging story that you won’t want to stop watching until the final credits roll.