With Episode 4 having come and gone, I can firmly say that this has been the series high point thus far. From eccentrics to class humour to downright dastardly actions, this episode has by far satisfied in all departments.
After the cliff-hanger of the last episode, where one of the bears escapes from its pen, George and Billy go out to find him and, if necessary, shoot him should he get close to Upton. Although the bear is recaptured unscathed, George is not so lucky, getting a slight clawing from the bear when both Billy and George startle the bear.
While the bear returns to captivity, the effects are felt throughout the Mottershead clan. The realisation that they need to finish soon is brought to the forefront, and they need money to finish it all off. £300 worth and the bank are not exactly ready to hand out another large loan.
However helps come in the form of the slightly eccentric Lady Daphne Goodwin (Celia Imrie) who takes a shine to squirrel monkey Mortimer (whom she refers to as Percy). George, through Lizzie’s unwitting advice, realises the potential of charity, asking for donations from the local gentry in order to get the zoo up and running. So, with the mildly tentative assistance of Lady Katherine Longmore, the Mottershead begin to set up a benefit for all the local toffs to sponsor their animals.
Yet all is not well as, not only has June become fearful of animals after seeing George’s injury, but the village under Reverend Aaron Webb and Camilla Radler are beginning to form a petition to quash any chance of the zoo achieving planning permission.
There is a fair bit going on in this episode and most, if not all characters are given the best portioned out screen time of any episode so far. Even minor characters are beginning to get their own subplots and little romances, with Billy Atkinson (Ralf Little) and Agnes “Frankie” Franklin (Faye Brookes) making scintillating conversation, involving small lies and grand phrases coming mainly from the well-versed hucksterism of Billy, but was still quite amusing to watch as it made their budding relationship seemed all the more real for it.
But romance of the episode goes to Mew and Archie. Archie, as played by Tom Hardman, has been the perfect foil to Amelia Clarkson’s Mew, humanising her character as well as giving them a storyline of at least some interest.
Archie appears to be at the beck and call of Mew, submitting to challenges that Mew suggests and, while not all are pleasant, Mew’s smile upon Archie’s completion of the not always pleasant task shows that she really cares about him. While one challenge in particular seems to be harsher than the others, their relationship seems to be moving in a way that allows you to forgive her way of proving love.
Lady Katherine Longmore (Sophia Myles) also makes a much more important appearance, lending Selbourne Hall for the Mottershead’s benefit. But not only that, with all the upper classes descending upon the hall, we see how Lady Katherine is something of an outcast within their circles. She becomes more of an interest rather than just a motivation for George to plough on with his zoo.
Also on the upper class of the episode, Celia Imrie plays a wonderful eccentric. Being all the things a widowed women can be as long as they have a stonking pile of cash, like trying to buy a squirrel monkey, running a luxurious car and dressing in finery which the cuttings would probably be worth more than George’s suit. Yet she’s so damn likable in her eccentric yet philanthropic manner that one hopes to see more of her in the future.
This episode is also a huge draw for the villains of this piece with Stephen Campbell Moore and Hayley Carmichael doing magnificent turns as the Reverend Aaron Webb and Camilla Radler respectively. While I feel Webb will get a not unfair amount vitriol directed to him, it is the vicious little pit-bull that is Camilla Radler that gets my dose of utter loathing pointed squarely against her.
While Campbell Moore acting has remained good in all respects, Carmichael’s brand of loathsome subversive antagonism makes you want to jump in the TV via a portal you’ve created with your own mind and throw her out of Upton for her slimy blackmailing tactics. And to inspire such seething anger, Carmichael shows her great acting abilities. And besides, in that almost clichéd phrase, everyone loves to hate a villain.
But from hate to fear, I remembered what pangs of human emotion were like as June, the life of the zoo, became fearful of animals. Honor Kneafsey’s performance is probably one of her better ones as she is not merely the happy child living in a zoological paradise, but a girl troubled by the goings on around her, by both man and beast. While her storyline is resolved a little too quickly and with too little fuss made, Kneafsey still does enough to make her performance quite noteworthy.
But it is not just about the young cast members, but also the more mature, to phrase it finely. Anne Reid and Peter Wight’s performances complement each other so well, with Albert being the proud exhibitor of the many animals while Lucy attempts to charm and awe the Chester set with her culinary prowess, with varying degrees of success and lashing of class consciousness and class humour coming into the mix. They have become such a charming pair to an extent that you cannot believe that they are not paired up in real life. Every scene that they are in is one that has no blemishes in.
But last, and by no means least, comes Lizzie and George Mottershead. While Lee Ingleby’s performance of George is as delightful as ever, Liz White as Lizzie has come to an even greater prominence. While still naïve on the doings of the “good Reverend”, is still a force to be reckoned with, especially with George’s equally naïve use of Lady Katherine’s generosity and how it could be perceived. Yet her strength in standing by her friends, with one scene in particular coming to mind, against those who believe they are superior by birth made the” inner socialist”, if that’s the right phrase, in me jump for joy.
This episode has everything you want from the series and more: dramatic twists, humour, relatable characters and more. The only drawback I can see is that the next episode may not be able to live up to this, yet from the “Next Time” snippets, I have confidence that it can.
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