So I have realised two things with this post. Firstly, this is the first time since October that I have posted anything one day after another post. But secondly, and more importantly, this post makes me more productive in two weeks than I was for the entirety of August. With that bit of sobering comments on my work productivity done, let’s move on to the review of Our Zoo Episode 2.
If you saw episode one you’ll know from there “Next Time” bit that this episode’s plot revolves around George Mottershead and Billy Atkinson (Ralf Little) in their attempts to lure two black bears out of a cave so they can use them in their zoo.
However there are also several smaller plotlines that fit into the final story, first of which is Lizzie coming to prominence by managing the household and getting to grips with George’s zoo plans and getting permission for its construction. Second is George’s mother Lucy finding that she is no longer the matriarch of the family and coming to terms with her different role in the family. The last of which is Muriel’s (or Mew as she is nicknamed) storyline in which she tries to get to know/stalking their gentry neighbour Lady Katherine Longmore.
I must admit that Lee Ingleby does an impressive turn in this episode, giving George more of the vitality that was present at the end of the first episode, being buoyed up by the optimism of opening a zoo. His fervour is displayed in showing the family how intends to run the zoo and, along with June’s ever present bubbly self, makes for pleasant viewing.
One of the episodes highlights was, when trimming some bushes in order to get away from some hospital equipment he discovers in a room left over from the First World War, George overhears the a bugle sounding the fox hunts approach. By chance, George encounters the fox and hides in in a stable, spreading water to mask the fox’s scent. To see how George will lovingly take in wild animals to save them from societal barbarism was brilliantly done, highlighting the sports savagery by showing the clearly knackered fox and silently approving of the UK’s ban of fox hunting in 2004.
However, despite the fact that Ingleby got to act alongside bears, his greatest scenes seemed to be when he was with his onscreen wife Lizzie. Their chemistry in bang on the money, acting like a married couple both in the happy moments when showing off the zoo plans; the angrier moments when tensions rise over whether to have bears, and vying for power over the development of the zoo.
Lizzie (Liz White) however, must take due credit as her role is expanded upon from merely the naysayer. Lizzie becomes a stronger character as for the first time she has her own household, not that of George’s mother and she is not about to let that position be lost, even taking on George’s mother to preserve it.
There’s even a hint of feminism coming through her character, as she bemoans the fact that she needs to fill in form to get Oakfield transferred from domestic to business, needs to be done by George and not herself, saying “God forbid a woman could fill in a form!”. This keenly, whilst taking away from the overall message of the series, of the changes still needed in equality for women, despite the fact that women by 1928 could now vote at 21, the same age as men for the first time in British history.
Yet Lizzie’s focus in mainly upon her aptitude to managing a home and her intellect in changing and improving George’s plans for the zoo and for the Liz White creates a character that is strong character in her own right, not merely following George’s vision for fear of treading on his shadow.
Once again Anne Reid turns out a fantastic performance as Lucy Mottershead, with her character still being denial about her position as matriarch and the respect she commanded as a shop owner being wiped away in an instant in order to go on what many may call a mad adventure. Lucy sort of symbolises the displacement the older generation feels to the newer forward thinking generation and Lucy is struggling to preserve her place of dominance which is fading fast, if not faded already, something which her husband has realised and taken in his stride.
With the husband being mentioned, I must give some credit to the smaller characters in this series. Ralf Little as the wheeling and dealing Billy Atkinson gives someone for George to bounce off of, creating scenes that are at times both touching and quite humorous, even when you are surrounded by Asian black bears. Even now I find myself smirking at him singing “Me and My Shadow” to a bear so that it will remain asleep.
Peter Wight as Albert Mottershead and Honor Kneafsey as his granddaughter June, though they do not have any particularly large scenes, bring a certain sweetness to the series, as most exemplified when trying to milk a goat and, when Mew offers June to do the milking instead, June eagerly accepts only for Albert to gently push Mew to do some work. It’s a pleasure to see them on screen and I hope they attain larger amounts of screen time as the series progresses.
Yet, and unfortunately, that cannot be said for Mew, as portrayed by Amelia Clarkson. I may be wrong, maybe she has hidden talents as yet undiscerned by me, but all I can see is a wheel that needs to be gotten rid of. Aside from the goat milking scene, she once again has very little to show in acting versatility. Mew only acts as a foil to other characters, making them more interesting and rounded characters while she herself remains a blank canvas that no-one really wants to paint on.
Apart from a pretty face, and hair reminiscent to YouTuber Carrie Hope Fletcher, there seems to be little reason for her to be there. Indeed, Clarkson acts as a mopey teenager desiring more which isn’t exactly pushing the boat out. Similar could be said for Kneafsey portraying a happy child, but her screen time is meaningful and her acting at least developing, whereas Clarkson does not have that blessing.
Perhaps it is not her fault and is directed in a faulty fashion, but considering the other characters good, if not excellent performances, I feel Mew should be either given greater importance to show her as of yet hidden acting talents or directions to the stage door.
While the series has not even reached the halfway point, and much is still to occur, the series is filled with promise and things seemed to be developing nicely, same of which I have left out purposefully to avoid spoilers. I hope this series builds up on its first few episodes for anything less than what they have delivered would be a disappointment, unless it were a good performance from Clarkson.
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