Olivia Colman, Ben Kingsley, James McAvoy to star in BBC1/Netflix co-production of Watership Down

BBC1 and Netflix have attracted Hollywood stars to its groundbreaking co-production of the classic children's novel, Watership Down.

The four-part animated series about a group of rabbits who flee their home in fear of destruction by humans will star James McAvoy as Hazel, Nicholas Hoult as Fiver, Sir Ben Kingsley as General Woundwort, John Boyega (Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens) as Bigwig, Gemma Arterton as Clover, Miles Jupp as Blackberry, Freddie Fox as Captain Holly, Olivia Colman as Strawberry, and Anne-Marie Duff as Hyzenthlay.

The series will premiere on BBC One in the UK and worldwide, outside of the UK, on Netflix.  

Larry Tanz, Vice President Global Television, Netflix, said: “We jumped at the chance to get in early and work alongside the BBC and production company] 42 to bring this classic English tale to our members around the world. This novel presentation of [author Richard] Adam’s work pairs great talent with beautiful animation and will delight existing fans and capture a whole new audience for this timeless story.”

BBC dama commissioning editor Matthew Read said: "Before there was Harry Potter there was Watership Down, Richard Adams’ novel is one of the most successful books of all time and one of the biggest selling books in history. It is fantastic to have the opportunity to bring a modern classic to a mainstream BBC One audience with such an incredible roster of actors alongside the talented team overseeing the animation.”

Watership Down has been produced for cinema and television before. The 1978 animated film starring John Hurt and Richard Briers was a hit in its day and has been frequently re-run on TV. ITV made an animated TV series in 1999, starring Stephen Mangan, Rik Mayall and Jane Horrocks.

The new version is a unique co-production between the BBC and streaming service Netflix and will be created in CGI by an animation team led by Pete Dodd (Fantastic Mr Fox, Frankenweenie) and Hugo Sands; along with the animation studio Brown Bag Films, based in Dublin.

A premiere date for the new Watership Down hasn't been set yet.


Patrick McLennan

Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix. 

An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.