This year’s masterpiece of Christmas television has to have been the BBC’s adaptation of Watership Down. Some of you may question my inclusion of a review of this animated drama on a Fantasy and Sci-fi review site, but for me Watership Down contains some of the very best elements of fantasy elements, so bear with me.
I first read Watership Down as a child. I spent some time reading Richard Adams original book as well as his book on a bear called Shardik. I also devoured William Horwoods books on moles in the Duncton Wood series. They combined my love of the natural world with strong story telling and deep mythos.
It is the mythos that gives Watership Down its fantasy heart. These are not just rabbits like we have seen with Beatrix Potter but well though out with an understanding of an after life and a mythology in line with their daily trials and tribulations. The book and the animation at its heart captures the beauty of friendship and sacrifice. How communities must work together and trust each other to survive.
The story is your standard quest, a seer (Fiver) foretells doom and must, with the reluctant hero leader (Hazel), convince their friend to leave for safer pastures. Amongst them is the bard (Blackberry), telling stories and the warrior (Bigwig) who is belligerent but dependable. On the way the meet the cult like warren led by Cowslip.
Escape from there leads them to their promised land where on the way they rescue damsels in distress and make strange friends in the form of a gull. The finale is the siege of their home by the evil rabbits of Efrafa led by General Woundwort.
This is a classic epic replayed through the unique viewpoint of rabbits. The story is beautifully rich with a whole pantheon of god led by Frith who give the rabbits both religion, believability and depth. The original animation released in 1978 was a shade darker in tone and was very moving in its final scenes as Hazel joins the Black Rabbit to the haunting tune of Art Garfunkel’s Bright Eyes.
This adaptation more than adequately stands against this older work. The animation is better and the story more tightly woven. One problem I did have with the BBC version was that in many ways the rabbits had more mannerisms and looks of Hares rather than rabbits, something that shouldn’t detract from the story to most people.
All in all a very enjoyable watch with a stellar cast involving many Sci-fi luminaries.