Leyland screenwriter excited for Christmas showing of Watership Down adaptation

Watership Down. Supplied by BBC
Watership Down. Supplied by BBC
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One highlight on the festive scheduling this year will be the new BBC adaptation of Watership Down, which has been five years in the making for Leyland screenwriter Tom Bidwell.

The 34-year-old is delighted audiences will finally get to see the four-part animated series, which includes the voices of James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, John Boyega, Gemma Arterton and Olivia Colman. It will also feature an original song by Sam Smith.

Tom Bidwell. Photo by  Michael Dixon

Tom Bidwell. Photo by Michael Dixon

The story follows a band of rabbits, led by two brothers, on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. They leave their native Sandleford Warren and encounter harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, towards a promised land and a more perfect society.

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He says: “Watership Down is one of my favourite books. I remember it so well from being a child. The original film was only 70 minutes long and so we wanted to show the full version. We are hoping people will let go of their ideas of the original film and remember it is an adaptation of the book, rather than a remake of the film. It will be two double-bill episodes spread over two nights over Christmas.

“We have gone back to the book which is a little bit scary and still dark. We wanted to focus on the story rather than the gore (of the original film).

“I am really excited and can’t wait for people to see it.

“This is the first ever animated TV drama series. Hopefully this will pioneer a new way of making animated TV.”

Tom adds he felt privileged to have met author Richard Adams before he died in December 2016 and reveals the new adaptation has been given a seal of approval from his family.

He says: “I feel so lucky to have met Richard Adams before he passed away and chat through the book with him.

“I have been interacting with his family throughout the process. I wanted to respect his story, especially given the fact he first came up with the idea through telling his two daughters stories on holiday and in the car. I wanted to make sure I kept the essence of the story.

“His daughters really like the animated series and that means the world to me.”

The cast are equally excited about the adaptation, as Tom adds: “When we asked James McAvoy to be Hazel he sent a photo of himself wearing a Watership Down t-shirt on the set of X-Men.

“Taron Egerton, who plays El-Ahrairah, really wanted to take part but there was a clash with his filming schedule. We were going to find someone else but he drove all the way to the studio to record his part before he drove back to his other set. It is no nice knowing that the people working on it really care about the material.

“We have such an incredible cast.”

Tom, who was also screenwriter for Mad Fat Diary, is currently writing a Netflix original series called The Irregulars, which is a Sherlock Holmes universe supernatural crime thriller.

CBBC show Katy, which Tom also worked on, is up for three Bafta nominations, including best writer. The winners will be announced on November 25.

Watership Down will air on BBC One over Christmas. The TV listings are still to be confirmed.