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  M.   May 06, 2016

by Ali Jaafar

Netflix and the BBC are teaming on a blockbuster adaptation of the classic novel Watership Down. The four-part animated miniseries is the brainchild of dynamic Brit production-management banner 42. The series will premiere on BBC One in the UK and internationally on Netflix. An A-list collection of talent has been assembled for the project including Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ John Boyega, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Ben Kingsley and Gemma Arterton.

Richard Adams’ novel, expanded from stories he told his children and long popular with both children and adults, was first published in 1972 and has since gone to sell more than 50 million copies. Set in the idyllic rural landscape of southern England, the tale of adventure, courage, and survival follows a band of rabbits on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, towards a promised land and a more perfect society. Throughout the narrative, their culture is expanded upon via tales of the mythological first rabbit from whom the rest are descended.

In 1978, Martin Rosen wrote and directed an animated film adaptation of the book, featuring the voices of John Hurt and Richard Briers. Art Garfunkel even recorded a song, “Bright Eyes,” that became a No. 1 hit in the UK. Rosen also produced an animated TV series between 1999-2001, again featuring Hurt and Briers, along with Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall and Dawn French.

The new series is written by Tom Bidwell (My Mad Fat Diary) and directed by Noam Murro (300: Rise Of The Empire). It will be a co-production between BBC One and Netflix and produced by 42 and Murro’s bannner Biscuit Films.

“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,” said Matthew Read, BBC Drama Commissioning Editor. “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. This fantastic take on the novel will unite the whole family, and bring this classic story to a new generation.”

“Adapting this much-loved novel in a fresh and innovative way is a truly exciting opportunity,” added 42 co-founder and exec producer Aitken. “Telling the story over four hours of CG animation allows us to explore the characters from the novel and their adventure in a way not previously achievable on screen.”

The drama is co-directed by Pete Dodd (Fantastic Mr Fox), produced by Hugo Sands, and the CG animation team will be led by with Dublin-based animation studio Brown Bag Films. It will be distributed internationally by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, with whom 42 has a first-look and overhead deal.

Aitken, Josh Varney, Ben Pugh and Eleanor Moran exec produce for 42; Murro for Biscuit Films and Read for BBC.

42 is one of the UK’s most prolific companies, with Sam Worthington-starrer The Titan, the Hoult-Felicity Jones actioner Collide, Revolt and The Autopsy Of Jane Doe all in the pipeline.

James McAvoy is repped by United Agents and UTA. Nicholas Hoult is repped by 42 and UTA. John Boyega is repped by Identity Agency Group and WME. Gemma Arterton is repped by Independent Talent Group, CAA and Agence Adequat. Sir Ben Kingsley is repped by Independent Talent Group and CAA. Noam Murro is repped by CAA, 42 and Management 360.