Naturally I’m eagerly anticipating the release on the BBC Watership Down miniseries in 2017. I adore Richard Adams’ story, and I must confess I re-watch the old animated film over and over again any time I’m feeling a bit run down. I first discovered the film when I was twelve at a sleep over. I loved it, but my more sensitive friend was horrified!
The idea of a Watership Down remake as a miniseries excites me for several reasons. Firstly, I’ve been longing for more Watership Down content. Secondly, the increased length of a miniseries would allow some of the deeper themes to be explored in greater detail, and I sincerely hope we get to see more of the lapine mythology animated.
Thirdly, I have been craving a better gender balance in Watership Down since I first discovered it. Even though this is a story about rabbits, it was originally a story for young girls.
I’m certainly not the first to point out the problems Watership Down has with its female characters, few and far between as they are. The does are treated more like a resource than like characters in their own rights, for the most part like passive baby makers. This particularly incensed me because real rabbit behaviour isn’t like this at all.
I’m not going to go crazy and demand that the narrative be completely changed in the interest of gender equality. The novel is a product of its time, and I still enjoy it. There are a few points I would add or change that I feel wouldn’t alter the charm of the story, whilst still helping the does to feel more like characters and less like objects.
- It would be nice to see any sort of characterisation or opinion from Sandleford does, whether it’s about them being comfortable where they are, or being willing to leave but unable to due to their kits.
- There’s a great opportunity to examine the liberated Nuthanger Farm does and their need to adapt to wild life. Clover gets minimal attention in the film, but would a few minutes to focus on their struggles and challenges be too much to ask? Let alone the challenge of being the only two females in the warren for an extended time.
- Speaking of the Nuthanger does, the Sandleford bucks fought among themselves to decide who would get to mate with whom. While bucks do fight over such things, I would prefer to see that the does themselves also have some input and ability to choose. It’s a small change, but showing us these does have an opinion on the matter is a vast improvement.
- Lastly, once the does have arrived at the warren, I would love to see them actually contribute to the society these rabbits are building. We see a little of this in Hyzenthlay, as she tries to make the needs of the Efrafan does known, but I would like to see more of the new does influencing construction and design of the Watership warren in ways that the bucks hadn’t considered.
- And would anyone mind if the remake actually passed the Bechdel test?
These little things would’t change the story, but it would go a long way to making the female characters of Watership Down feel like actual characters and not commodities.
After all, this was a story for girls too. Why can’t they have characters they can relate to?