Watership Down’: 18 Facts You Didn’t Know About The New Adaptation

An all-star cast is set to bring the beloved tale of ‘Watership Down’ to a new generation this weekend, as the BBC airs a new two-part adaptation. 

While many will be familiar with the Richard Adams novel of the same name, or the original 1978 film, this new take sees the story – which follows a band of rabbits as they flee the certain destruction of their home – brought to life in a way like never before. 

Here’s 18 facts you won’t have known about it…

This new adaptation will also delve into the story a lot deeper than the original film. The 1978 film clocked in at 91 minutes, while the BBC’s take will total over double that, with three hours and 20 minutes to enjoy over the two episodes.

Actor Nicholas Hoult, who plays Fiver, says the BBC’s new take is an “adaptation of the book, as opposed to a remake of the film”. 

The show is a co-production between the BBC and Netflix, and the streaming service will distribute it internationally.

The show has taken more than three years to make, with the actors laying down most of their work a year and a half ago, before having to then come back and add some finishing touches. 

While the original film terrorised audiences back in the 1970s, with its brutal portrayal of death, director Noam Murro has denied they were asked to tone down the story for a new generation.

He said: “The story itself is dark and complex, but we were never asked to sterilise it. That freedom allowed me to create a truthful account of a novel that was originally intended for children but championed by adults. It operates on both levels.”

Prior to his death in 2016, the book’s author, Richard Adams, met with screenwriter Tom Bidwell to record the correct pronunciation of the lapine language, which formed a special part of the original novel.

Bosses were keen to push the female characters more to the fore of the story, and sought Richard’s approval to do so. 

One such example of how they tried to achieve this was changing the gender of the character Strawberry, who is now voiced by Olivia Colman.

The gender of the Black Rabbit of Inle, who takes the rabbits to the afterlife, was never specified in the book, but the decision was taken to make her female too, with the character voiced by Rosamund Pike in this new version.

The story of Clover (played by Gemma Arterton) has also been promoted to form a more important part of the narrative.

Sam Smith has recorded an original theme song ‘Fire On Fire’, while Emeli Sandé wrote and performed the protest song that features as the rabbits fight for their freedom.

 Sam specifically took time out from his punishing tour schedule especially to write and record the song, having fallen in love with the script after first reading it. 

James McAvoy, who plays Hazel, found out some interesting facts about rabbits’ behaviour, which he revealed helped inform his performance.

“The rate at which a rabbit’s heart beats is incredibly fast – to the extent that they can have heart attacks just from being overexcited or panicked,” he said. “They have this thing where they can freeze if they are overstimulated, such as when they’re in the headlights of a car.”

 Nicholas has James to thank for landing him the role, revealing: “He told me about it when we were working together on ‘X-Men’. I was so excited by it, that he explained to the producers that we’re really good friends and have almost a brotherly relationship.

“James was playing Hazel, so it made sense for me to play Fiver, his younger brother.”

The actors recorded their parts before any of the animation took place, with Gemma admitting it felt “bizarre to be working on something which hasn’t been visually realised yet”, but added: “It’s great because you get to be really creative with it.”

Many of the actors also recorded their parts separately, rather than in a big group environment. Nicholas admitted having worked with many of them on other projects before helped massively in “prompting his responses”. 

 Nicholas admitted he had to “pitch his voice up” while voicing Fiver, as when he started recording, producers realised his voice sounded “too old”, but admitting trying to sound younger was “quite difficult at times”. 

Also among the rest of the cast are: John Boyega, Sir Ben Kingsley, Tom Wilkinson, Peter Capaldi, Mackenzie Crook, Anne-Marie Duff, Taron Egerton, Freddie Fox, Daniel Kaluuya, Rory Kinnear, Craig Parkinson, Jason Watkins, and Gemma Chan.