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I TALK Our Zoo

BBC One's latest drama is based on a true story, and that is the story of how Chester Zoo came to be. Our Zoo follows the Mottershead family who set up the zoo in the 1930s.

Initially I thought Our Zoo sounded like a Sunday evening drama, which is no bad thing, so was a little surprised when I saw that it was due to air on a Wednesday night instead. But then I watched the first two episodes and what day it aired on became irrelevant because it was a great drama that told a great story, and told it well.

Lee Ingleby, best known for playing Detective Sergeant John Bacchus in Inspector George Gently, gets to play another George in Our Zoo, George Mottershead. Lee puts in a great performance and I'm looking forward to seeing George develop throughout the series.

Having fought in the Great War, George has a dream, realised by the strong connection he has with animals, and that dream is to build a zoo.

His love for animals is deeply seeded in his experiences recuperating from a war wound. And whilst there are times where he is reminded by the horrors he witnessed at war, he follows through with building Chester Zoo, making the impossible seem achievable.

Our Zoo follows George's inspiring and challenging journey as he moves his wife, two young daughters and parents, into a draughty old stately home in Upton, Chester. Oh, and let's not forget the monkey, parrot and camel he also brings with him.

George's wife Lizzie Mottershead is played by the wonderful Liz White (Life On Mars, From There To Here). She is a fiercely strong independent woman who has to support her husband in order to get the zoo off the ground.

She's given an unexpected freedom that most housewives in the 1930s didn't have. Using her experiences as a bookkeeper, Lizzie is able to lend a rigour and professionalism to George's vision.

Together Lizzie and George make one hell of a team, and their youngest daughter, June, is played brilliantly by Honor Kneafsey who recently appeared in Friday Night Dinner and before that Sherlock.

She may be the youngest member of the family, but her contribution to the zoo is pivotal. She's the one with the imagination and the way Honor portays her makes it very clear that June was a very smart girl who was worldly beyond her years.

The entire Mottershead may not be fully behind George's idea to build a zoo, but June is, and the excitement she has when her father brings a new animal home is infectious, and undoubtedly keeping the family together. She believes in her dad no matter what and never lets her energy drop. She's easily my favourite character and it's brilliant to see it portrayed so well by such a young actress. Im sure Honor Kneafsey will be one to look out for in the future.

June isn't their only daughter though, there's also Mew, who is played by Amelia Clarkson (Jane Eyre). She's an adventurous girl and takes after her grandmother Lucy (Anne Reid, Last Tango In Halifax), especially in the way she doesn't want to live in a zoo.

At first, Mew feels lonely in Upton, but she soon finds an idol in next door neighbour, Lady Katherine (Sophia Myles, Moonlight) who herself is an exotic misfit in Upton.

As with any new drama, the first episode serves as a 'getting to know' episode. We get to know who the Mottershead family are, what their values are, where they came from and what the dynamics are like within the family. So by the time we reach the point of them building Chester Zoo, we feel like we understand how George's frustrations at living under his parents' roof has led him there.

At the very end of episode one, George makes a very good point - "Can't have a zoo without animals." - which sets up the rest of the drama and as soon as we reach episode two, things really step up a gear in trying to get the zoo open.

The neighbourhood don't take too well to the Mottershead family and of course we know they plan to open a zoo, but speculation is rife amongst the neighbourhood as to what the family are going to do with Oakfield Manor.

Once they move in, it's a race against time to get the zoo built and ready for business, for two reasons. One, a derelict plot of land, mounting debts and a campaign from local villagers to halt his plans, which doesn't help. And two, winter is just around the corner, together with the bailiffs.

I'm not usually into my period drama, but this felt different, because it is different.

Perhaps for the same reason I enjoy watching Mr Selfridge, Our Zoo tells the true story of a place most of us have visited, Chester Zoo.Getting to learn about how Chester Zoo came to be through drama is both fascinating and entertaining, and in turn makes it more believable and relatable than most period dramas on television.

I've only seen the first two episodes, but I can't wait to see more and learn more about the characters and the struggles they face in their lives. I really hope Our Zoo performs well for the BBC because personally, it's the best period piece they've had on the channel in years. And the first I've actually enjoyed in what feels like forever.

Our Zoo airs Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC One


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