Friday 6 May 2016

Dumbing (Watership) down

Bright Eyes - no longer 'burning like fire', probably now just 'glowing with warmth'.

As I may have said before, Watership Down is just about my favourite book. Certainly it is the book I have read more times (fourteen) than any other and, in the unlikely event that I ever go on Desert Island Discs, it's the book I would choose to take with me. It is terrific.

Imagine my delight, then, to learn that the BBC and Netflix are partnering up to make a new screen adaptation, jam-packed with big names. Again, terrific, not that there's anything wrong with the excellent 1978 film version, jam-packed with John Hurt and Richard Briers.

Imagine my displeasure, though, to discover that the new version will be watered down, sanitised even, all so that it can be more family-friendly and not provoke a wave of protests, as the recent Easter Sunday afternoon screening of the Seventies version apparently did.

As you have probably already guessed, I do not approve of this. Nature is, as Ted Hughes famously observed, "red in tooth and claw". Richard Adams knew this when he wrote the book; there are so many threats to a rabbit in the wild, Adams christened the mythical rabbit El-Ahrairah as "Prince with a Thousand Enemies". If a rabbit is caught in a snare, as happens to Hazel in the book, it is going to be painful, bloody even, and potentially scary for very young viewers. If a farmyard cat corners a rabbit, as happens in the book, well, that rabbit is going to be in trouble: again, potentially scary for very young viewers. And if a rabbit has a dream about the fields being full of blood and the warren being visited by the Black Rabbit of Inlé (a sort of lapine Grim Reaper), as happens in the book, well, that's going to be scary for very young viewers too.

So I guess there are two choices: dumb the whole thing down, so nothing bad ever happens and nature is a sweet, neutered place of buttercups and friendly animals, where no blood is ever shed, and "wild animal" is an oxymoron; or maybe, just maybe, advertise the new programme as containing scenes some young viewers may find upsetting and then leave it to the parents to take an active interest in what their charges are watching. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently, it is.

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