Review: Our Zoo - we give our verdict on the opening episode of BBC period drama filmed at Walton Hall

10:00pm Wednesday 3rd September 2014

By David Morgan

FORGET the adorable animals.

Our Zoo is really about honest ambition, taking risks and making something of yourself against all odds.

There is a really motivational story behind BBC’s 1930s drama and what’s more it is all true.

The first episode, which aired on Wednesday, sees George Mottershead (Lee Ingleby) penniless and disheartened.

He, his wife Lizzie (Liz White) and their children are living in cramped conditions with his parents, Albert and Lucy Mottershead.

George is expected to take over his father Albert’s grocery store but he wants to be his own man.

He is also haunted by painful memories from his time fighting in the First World War.

But what makes the first episode engaging is that it jumps between the light and dark moments in George’s life.

There is the drama of the family struggle and George’s personal demons but it is balanced with a lot of humour and warmth too.

You cannot help but grin when George goes to the docks to deliver goods and comes home with an abandoned squirrel monkey and parrot – because he cannot bear to see them suffer in a quarantine bay.

Then when his bewildered family convince him to give the animals up to a travelling circus...and he returns with a camel, the laughs come thick and fast.

The family home becomes a makeshift zoo as neighbours can’t help but take a peek at the exotic creatures.

George’s good-hearted nature shines through thanks to Lee Ingleby’s performance.

And his love of animals is shared with his youngest daughter June (Honor Kneafsey) which makes for some touching moments.

George wants to ‘put a bit of beauty back into the world’ after the dark days of the war and June is inseparable from Mortimer, a squirrel monkey from Colombia.

Warrington’s Walton Hall features about half way through the episode and doubles for Oakfield Manor where the Mottershead family come to call home.

Like all the best things in life, the idea for a zoo came by accident when George spots that the property, a former military hospital, is up for auction.

The set designers have clearly worked their magic – the similarities between Walton Hall and Oakfield Manor are astonishing and give the period drama an air of authenticity.

After some mandatory auction day drama with a slightly distracting side story involving George’s lovesick daughter Mew Mottershead (Amelia Clarkson), the dream of a ‘zoo without bars’ is one step closer to reality.

Now there is just the small matter of making it work and not going bankrupt in the process...

- Our Zoo continues next Wednesday on BBC One at 9pm

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