A week ago we said goodbye to the Mottershead family (above) in Our Zoo, but not permanently I hope. I’m sure that no-one had thought about how Chester Zoo came into being, or if they had, that it would make one of the most endearing and compelling pieces of drama for many years, but that is what it has proved to be. Whoever commissioned this needs a massive pat on the back, because it has been a joy from start to finish, from the opening scene of George Mottershead and young June going to the circus right though to the closing shot (above) of the awestruck, smiling faces of June and George looking into the van containing a roaring big cat (the reflection of the animal can just be seen in the van’s window). Obviously Chester Zoo is successful and still thrives today, so the “will they succeed” storyline was never in any doubt, So it was down to the writer and actors to make the audience identify with the Mottersheads and make them believe that it was indeed a wonderful but virtually impossible dream. The cast playing the Mottersheads have been exemplary. Lee Ingleby as George, Liz White as his wife Lizzie, Anne Reid as his mother Lucy, Peter Wight as father Albert, Amelia Clarkson as teenage daughter Muriel “Mew”, and Ralf Little as Lizzie’s brother. Special mention to young actress Honor Kneafsey as June, George and Lizzie’s youngest daughter, who narrates some of the story and on whose book the drama is based. Honor was totally believable and put in a winning performance as the little girl who loved animals and whose enthusiasm and love for her Dad drove him on.
Praise to the actors playing the “villains of the piece”. Heroes can only be such, if they have great adversaries to deal with and Stephen Campbell-Moore was superb as the manipulative Reverend. Hayley Carmichael as Camilla Radler the shopkeeper as his “accomplice” and Jason Watkins as the councillor doing everything in his power to stop the Mottersheads get their zoo.
The supportive good guys, Sophia Myles as Lady Katherine, the posh lady with dubious moral character according to the councillor. Tom Hardman as the shopkeeper’s son, Archie, postman and who is sweet on the teenage Muriel “Mew” Mottershead. Faye Brooks as Frankie, secretary to Jason Watkins but secretly dating Billy. The young village doctor, Doctor Ford, played by Hugh Skinner, who was a good man who treated the Mottersheads’ black bears when they were sick but was manipulated by the Reverend to sign the petition against the Mottersheads, because of his “position in the community”.
Celia Imrie had a guest turn as Lady Goodwin who was taken with Mortimer the monkey who reminded her of her late husband (!) and wanted to buy Mortimer. Mortimer belonged to George’s youngest daughter June, so this wasn’t going to happen, but George hit on the idea of sponsoring an animal which allowed Lady Goodwin to visit Mortimer when she pleased.
As to which of these characters (other than the Mottersheads themselves) really existed or whether they a dramatic representation of the general opposition the family faced doesn’t matter. It all worked very well.
Something which rarely gets mentioned is music and opening titles. Like everything else in this production, first class. Nick Green’s lovely theme full of innocence and beauty played over the opening titles of pictures of June with the animals. The score was beautifully nuanced, adding to the drama but never overpowering it.
Also, please can the sound mixers in this programme hold a masterclass to other drama producers because there wasn’t one moment of “what did they say?” in this whole series.
Also, to everyone behind the scenes, be it costume, set design and of course the animal handlers who must have had one heck of a job, thanks.
Mortimer (monkey), Sydney (camel), Adam and Eve, Gilbert and Sulliivan (the bears) and the rest of the animals, you were great!
This programme just has to get a second series, because as George himself would say, “put some beauty in the world”.
The popularity of Sherlock Holmes waxes and wanes over time. The character was at a peak of popularity in the 50s with Basil Rathbone, and again in the 80s with Jeremy Brett. In between there have been countless reimaginings with some good and some not so good.
In the 2000s and 2010s Holmes is at arguably the highest peak of popularity yet. Robert Downey Jnr presents us with an action hero Holmes in Guy Ritchie’s films. It is however, Steven Moffat’s and Mark Gatiss’s modern, smart, sexy adaptation on the BBC that has caught the imagination with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman defining Holmes and Watson for the 21st century.
Moffat himself referred to this Sherlock as a rock star. Yep, there’s Cumberbatch and Freeman headlining on the main stage, with adoring fans and T shirts being sold aplenty. They do a quick 3 rock anthem set and they’re gone, back who knows when. Meanwhile on a small stage in the afternoon there’s that little band called Elementary of Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, unseen on the Sky Living stage and dismissed as not the real thing. They do a full set of 24 little indie pop songs with some good riffs and will be back next year to do more of the same.
So you probably get the idea now that I might just like Elementary. I do, a lot.
When it was first announced that CBS were doing a modern Sherlock Holmes with, OMG, a woman as Watson, I rolled my eyes. When I tuned in to the first few episodes of season one, I thought I’d be laughing them off that stage. What I found was a well acted, well written show that had found a new way of telling the story. This Sherlock is very much a recovering drug addict, and he needs the presence of Watson to keep him on the straight and narrow. Jonny Lee Miller really convinces as the on the edge Holmes, and is twitchy in manner and jerky in his speech. He really needs Watson to help him focus on his cases and a key plot point at the end of this run is threatening to upset this. Watson may be a woman in this adaptation but I find it refreshing that Holmes and Watson don’t adopt the flirty banter that might have been expected from a man and woman pairing. Watson starts as a sponsor for Holmes for his addict meetings, and as time goes by, Holmes starts to realise that Watson is crucial to his recovery and, more importantly, key to his ability to change into a more socially enabled person, which he never thought was possible before he met her. Lucy Liu is convincing as Joan Watson, the ex surgeon, cum counsellor who finds a new purpose in life with the gruff, annoyingly direct, but magnetic Holmes.
This series is set mainly in New York, due to Holmes getting away from London for personal reasons, but it is inevitable that Holmes will eventually cross paths with the local law enforcement.
The NYPD, who Holmes and Watson help on certain cases, are good at their jobs and are not portrayed as idiots or treated as such by Holmes. Aidan Quinn and Jon Michael Hill are great as Captain Gregson and Detective Bell and have been given their own story strands in the show.
The other important characters from the Holmes universe have also been introduced into the show very well. Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer has played a very beguiling and manipulative Irene Adler and Rhys Ifans has been brilliant as the multi-layered, more socially adept, Mycroft Holmes, particularly this second season. Sean Pertwee’s Inspector Lestrade has been in a number of episodes to great effect but Mrs Hudson takes a far greater back seat in this version. Again she’s not the expected version of the character!
Moriarty has also been involved, in a new way, but I’m not giving anything away!
The series has been renewed by CBS for a third season which is great news.
So, this version of Sherlock Holmes isn’t as showy as it’s BBC counterpart but is far more radical with its characters and treatment of the Holmes universe, and is still satisfying. It is by no means “the support act”. Getting past “OMG Watson is a woman” is definitely worth the effort!
Jack Bauer is back to save the world (probably!) again, and this time he’s in London. I expect lots of car chases, explosions and general mayhem on and near loads of London landmarks!
In the UK, Sky 1 are showing the programme in a simulcast with the US. This means that for those of us in the UK, it’s on at 1am on Tuesday. It kicks off with a double bill, so there’s another episode at 2am. There’s also a half hour behind the scenes programme prior to the main show, and that’s on at 12:35am.