“The first thing you need to know about animals is that they’re just like human beings but with better manners.”
Another new BBC series opener today, and I’m happy to report that this one is much more enjoyable. It’s a period drama with a difference: the story of George Mottershead, shell-shocked war veteran who dreams of starting his own zoo, a zoo without bars or cages. And, as it turns out, it’s also a true story.
It has the same kind of feel as Call the Midwife in its nostalgic, slightly rose-tinted vision of the forties, all sepia tones and soft-focus edges, and the fact that although it’s trying to be brutally honest about life’s tragedies it’s full of little quirks of humour that sort of override that message. This is a story of a man dreaming an impossible dream, and making it possible. It features a playful monkey and what is possibly the least sad-looking abused camel ever. It’s kind of hard to see how it could even start being pessimistic.
There are some lovely performances: Honor Kneafsey particularly stands out as George’s young daughter June, and Liz White is suitably harried as Lizzie, George’s hapless wife. But the stars of the show, really, are the animals. Who can resist the little Colombian monkey that takes bits of apple from its owner’s hand and comes when it’s called? And it’s nice that this particular monkey isn’t dressed up or kept in the house or anthropomorphised; it has a travelling crate and a shed and everything. It’s an animal, not a little furry person, but it doesn’t lose its charm for all that.
Our Zoo feels like a classic. It feels like a series that will go on and on and be recommissioned for about a zillion follow-up series and have Christmas specials and Children in Need cameos. It’s just sweet, and sentimental, and well-acted, and full of hope. It’s something you actually want to watch on a Thursday evening. And that, Constant Reader, is a rare and precious thing.