OUR ZOO tells the story of George Mottershead (Lee Ingleby) and his family, who founded Chester Zoo in the early Thirties in the face of considerable pressure from the local people of Upton as well as the Ministry of Health. The story is a familiar one common to British movies (remember PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (1949), or THE TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT (1953)) of the underdog triumphing against apparently impossible odds.
Directed by Andy de Emmony, Robert McKillop, and Saul Metzstein, this six-part drama series emphasizes the importance of family values as a way of resisting bureaucracies. Despite occasional differences of opinion - especially in the last episode, as George prepares to fight the court case - George, his wife Lizzie (Liz White), and their two children (Honor Kneafsey, Amelia Clarkson) stay together through thick and thin, even if they have to endure several difficult times in the process. The move from their cramped little shop to the newly- purchased stately home and gardens (the location for the zoo) is a traumatic one, especially for Muriel (who wants to continue her relationship with Christopher (Perry Glasspool). They experience continual problems of making financial ends meet, and subsequently have to endure the villagers' almost unanimous opposition to the project. The fact that they emerge triumphant in the end offers a comment on today's society; despite the preoccupation with individualism (a by-product of capitalist values), community loyalty often provides the surest means of achieving one's ends.
George's parents (Anne Reid, Peter Wight) clearly understand the importance of this dictum, as they act unselfishly in their son's interests, rather than continuing their humdrum lives as co-owners of a greengrocer's shop. Both actors offer portrayals of stable, level-headed personalities, the kind of people that keep George's feet on the ground as he tries to fulfill his dream.
Stylistically speaking, OUR ZOO is shot in a series of dimly-lit interior sequences, reflecting the realities of life during the Thirties. The program's location-work is particularly convincing, especially in the opening episode, where the Mottishead's life in a cramped back-to-back terraced development proves constricting, both physically and mentally. Sometimes Matt Charman and Adam Kemp's script incorporates some linguistic anachronisms that wouldn't have been uttered by people living in early Thirties Britain, but its emphasis on so-called "old-fashioned" values such as the strength of the family is both touching and heart-warming. OUR ZOO is definitely a series worth spending time with.
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