Our Zoo: Episode 1 – Forget Cats and Dogs, This Family Has a Camel!

So looking back over my sites hits, which I do a worryingly amount of, I was looking over my top most read articles. Omitting the Home Page, which has way too many hits compared to my actual articles, three of my top five most read articles are my reviews for the TV series The Crimson Field.

Now I’m not exactly looking for a load more hits, though that would be nice. I wasn’t even looking for articles I had written that paled in comparison to the much more well-received articles I’ve written (I’m looking at you Monsters University and Fez). No I was just thinking, I haven’t seen a TV series I wanted to review for a while.

Well that’s really a half truth. I wanted to review In the Flesh that aired on BBC Three. The first series and when the second series began airing, reviews of the episodes almost seemed inevitable. However by the time it came out, the first review of The Crimson Field had been released and, since exams were cropping up, In the Flesh was sorrowfully left by the wayside, although not seeing it would have been a crime in itself.

Then the second series of The Village came. If you have not seen it, go out and watch it now. It’s like Downton Abbey, but for the working classes. The series is completely enthralling, with such acting talents like John Simm and Maxine Peake in the cast, it captures your imagination so perfectly.

So why, you may be asking yourself, hasn’t it been reviewed on The Chronic Chronicler? Simply put: I missed the first two episodes and did not want to do three reviews in quick succession so I could be up to date with the series.

p025hkq3But fear not for, as that old maxim goes, third time’s the charm and for me it most certainly has been. So, for the second time a TV series review begins an introduction comprised of mainly waffle, here is the review of the new BBC drama Our Zoo.

It is 1930 and Lee Ingleby (yes that guy from Episode 4 of The Crimson Field) stars as George Mottershead, the younger son of Albert and Lucy Mottershead (Peter Wight and Anne Reid) who run a respected grocers shop which he is set to take over from his parents. George outwardly seems to have a good life, with his wife Lizzie (Liz White – see Life on Mars (another series with Lee Ingleby) and From There to Here) as well as his two children Muriel (Amelia Clarkson) and June (Honor Kneafsey), but there lies an inner darkness to him.

George, who fought in the First World War, suffers psychologically from the memories of the Front and the fact that his elder brother died does not help, especially due to the fact his mother clearly preferred him over George and finds his apparent weakness in recovering from the war an embarrassment.

The thing that keeps him most calm is animals and, after going to the docks to collect stock for the shop, he encounters animals that had not been collected which are about to be put down. In a fit of compassion, he saves a squirrel monkey and an Australian parrot.

624Almost understandably his family, with the exception of June, think that he has finally gone a bit mad, especially when instead of selling the monkey and the parrot to the circus, he comes back with a camel to add to his menagerie.

But fate seems to smile upon George who, after a chance meeting with the Lady Katherine Longmore (Sophia Myles) at a WWI veteran’s reunion and the discovery of the rundown manor Oakfield, the idea takes form in George’s head, a zoo where there are no cages.

To say that I have pretty much spelled out the basic plot of the first episode is pretty accurate, yet I hope I’ve kept enough from you to keep you interested. One thing that should peak your interest is the well-chosen and experienced cast.

Lee Ingleby gives a strong performance in the lead role, exemplifying the psychological traumas war can do whilst retaining certain strength of character which makes him endearing. A particular scene between himself and the Reverend Aaron Webb (Stephen Campbell Moore) shows him to be a man of determination and grit. To show that his psychological trauma does not make up his character entirely, rather it has both weakened him and steeled him in the face of adversity.

The other noteworthy performances were that of Anne Reid as George’s complicated mother. Reid gives a brilliant performance as a mother who has clearly lost her “favourite” son as, when a letter arrives from George and Stan’s old regiment, she refers to it to June as “your Uncle Stan’s old regiment”, completely disregarding George’s involvement.

JS44315117
Pretty much the only picture I could find of Anne Reid in Our Zoo

Her disapproval of her surviving son is only seen more vividly in Reid’s performance by her outward disgust at George’s animals, seeing them as causing their downfall in respectable society. Reid gives Lucy Mottershead something that is difficult to do on screen, providing a character that you firmly disagree with yet completely understand her viewpoint as to why she is committing these actions. For Reid to put that all across in a single hour episode is a great achievement.

While there were other great acting talents in the episode, like Ralf Little (The Royle Family and Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) and the previously mentioned Liz White, they had little time to truly flex their acting muscles and, while neither gave bad performances in any regard, their screen time felt a bit lacking at times (though that can be said more of Little than White).

While this may be perceived a s a criticism, I do hope to see more fleshing out of these characters in future episodes as from what little time they had on screen, they captured enough of the audience’s attention for the, to become likeable.

One subplot which did nothing for the overall story, aside from leading to some clearly fabricated drama at the episode’s close was Muriel’s storyline. Muriel, who is in love with a young lad called Christopher (Parry Glasspool), wants to elope to New York with him, despite the fact she’s fifteen and he’s clearly only interested in her for one thing.

Inevitably things go wrong and the storyline only feeds into affirming George’s main overarching story. But it is told so banally, and acted by Clarkson with what I hope is only a small showing of her emotional range as otherwise it would be perceived as limited acting. She fits the bill of “pretty young girl”, but that’s it. Without being fleshed out, she will just be that character written for accuracies’ sake.

Just look at that monkey!
Just look at that monkey! I defy you to tell me it’s not awesome!

I do hope this series gets more viewers’ next episode as, while it is not a completely radical overhaul in terms of drama, it is simply great television. The concept keeps you interested, despite knowing the outcome, the acting (for the most part) is well done and the personal stories for each character (again for the most part) are so intriguing that it keeps you invested. Even if that’s not enough, the animals are enough to keep you watching, as well as the fact you see George and June on separate occasions walking around with a squirrel monkey on their shoulders. How much more do I need to convince you? In any case, I hope this series keeps the momentum going and builds upon it as an interesting series like this does not deserve to fritter away.

Thank you for reading and I hope you like the first installment of the six-part reviews of the BBC series Our Zoo, probably coming out Thursday or Friday. If you want you can still see it on BBC iPlayer and, if you can see it on TV, it comes out on Wednesday at 9:00 on BBC One. Also, if you aren’t already, don’t forget to follow me on WordPress, like my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter if you are the blogger stalkers I know most of you are. Also, if you want to write for this blog (film, books, TV, poetry, etc, etc.), please send me an email to chronicchronicler1@gmail.com and I’ll have a look. Thanks again for reading!

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