Belfast Telegraph

Story of Belfast Blitz elephant hits big screen

Movie tells true tale of zoo animal's WWII rescue

By Michael McHugh

A film about the rescue of a Belfast elephant during the Second World War is a tale of compassion and humanity, its leading actors have said.

Zoo tells the story of a boy's friendship with the animal and efforts to keep it from being killed during the Blitz.

It is based on a true story and premiered in Belfast yesterday.

Dame Penelope Wilton plays Denise Austin, who brought baby elephant Sheila home from Belfast Zoo to keep her safe. As well as the danger from Luftwaffe bombs, the Ministry of Public Safety had ordered that animals should be shot if they escaped during the Blitz.

She said: "It is a very humane story and it is a story of resilience and of these young people, who have the bravery in a grown-up world to fight for what they thought was right."

In the film a boy named Tom becomes friends with the elephant after his father, the zoo's vet, goes off to fight in the war.

He and his friends hide the elephant with the help of Dame Penelope's character. Tom is played by Art Parkinson, who said it was a story of compassion and humanity with its focus on animal welfare.

He added: "These days you look around and see pollution everywhere and disrespect for the Earth. So as humans we can change the way we look at that."

Dame Penelope said the film was about young people's relationships with each other and how they managed being adolescents during wartime. She added: "In the end all these disparate characters come together, plus Mrs Austin, and they achieve an amazing thing by hiding this elephant and they save its life."

At one stage in the film she had a menagerie of animals living with her: hedgehogs, parrots, rabbits, weasels, mice and birds. She said: "You name it, I had it. Guinea pigs, everything."

She said it was a story of what happened to people who were not involved directly in warfare.

"It was the fallout from that, the domestic side, how people managed when they were children and growing up."

Belfast Telegraph

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