Our Zoo, BBC One, TV review: A heart-warming period drama

But did the camels enjoy making it?

You wait a few decades for the heart-warming story of family dragged out of the other side of adversity through the purchase of a zoo and...

Actually Our Zoo (BBC1) differs in many respects from Benjamin Mee's 2008 book, We Bought a Zoo (later the Matt Damon movie), in that its protaganist begins a zoo from scratch (literally, his first purchase is a monkey) and it's in the 1930s.

But there are similarities. George Mottershead, a wounded First World War veteran, is portrayed here as dealing with post-traumatic stress. Aided by his parents, who sold their shop to raise money, he bought Oakfield Manor, which would become Chester Zoo. Mee was a freelance journalist who bought the ailing Dartmoor Zoo with help of his mother, lost his wife soon after and finally found happiness among the Siberian tigers and white-naped cranes.

We didn't get quite that far in the story last night with Our Zoo. We met Mottershead, played with a charming wide-eyedness by Lee Ingleby (Inspector George Gently, Early Doors), watching ill-treated animals at a travelling circus. Moved by the sight of the lions behind bars, the next time Mottershead was at the docks, collecting imported fruit for his family grocers, he also managed to end up with a Colombian squirrel monkey and an Australian parrot which have been ditched in quarantine. (More than one usually caught down the docks in the 1930s – it was chiefly venereal disease, if the books are accurate.)

Anyway, George returned home to the shop with his parrot and his monkey and as one might expect, his parents – Peter Wight and the brilliant Anne Reid go mad. And madder still when Mottershead returned from the circus to which he was going to give said monkey and parrot and instead returned with both – and a camel.

When a trip to a veterans' evening with his wideboy brother-in-law Billy saw George find an abandoned manor house that's up for auction the plan for a zoo formed.

I think with a degree of historical hindsight – for example the fact that I visited Chester Zoo in the late Eighties – you can probably guess that over the course of these six episodes (and perhaps beyond), George's endeavour and determination will be repaid with an all-shreiking, all-roaring success of a zoo. In fact, even if Chester Zoo was a historical footnote, you'd still probably draw the same conclusion. It was almost beyond obvious when Mottershead was outbid at the auction that his father would chip in with the cash, but that wasn't enough to stop this viewer getting a bit misty-eyed. And while Our Zoo had all the period sentimentality you'd perhaps expect – and it certainly felt more Sunday Night than Wednesday Night to this seasonsed All Creatures Great and Small watcher – it was still enjoyable.

However, there's something troubling at the heart of Our Zoo. Mottershead is an idealist who didn't want to see animals behind bars, to be as wild as possible – the zoo was his reaction to that. But – as the Daily Mail has gleefully pointed out this week – to make a programme like this you need animals that are, essentially, not wild, lest they bite Ralf Little's arm off.

None of the animals were harmed here and Our Zoo was made with the consultation of the RSPCA and had a vet on set. But, as reported, the firm used for the filming, Amazing Animals, provided four white lion cubs to a Japanese circus. Which someone undermines the show's central tenet. But no creatures, no show, I suppose. If only there were some Hollywood truism about that...

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea