ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

"The Zookeeper's Wife" Movie Review

Updated on April 23, 2019
popcollin profile image

Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life, he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).

The Zookeeper's Wife
The Zookeeper's Wife

So many stories of unimaginable courage have emerged from the time of World War II that you might begin to think there aren’t any left to be told. From To Hell and Back to The Imitation Game to Hacksaw Ridge, movies about heroes from almost every facet of the war have eventually made it to the big screen. Though The Zookeeper’s Wife doesn’t boast the scope of The Longest Day or the raw, visceral power of Saving Private Ryan, it’s inspiring nonetheless—a reminder that even if something didn’t happen on the battlefield (or even get recorded in history books), it doesn’t mean it’s not worth celebrating.

Based on the engrossing book by Diane Ackerman, The Zookeeper’s Wife stars Jessica Chastain as Antonina Zabinski, a Polish woman who, alongside her husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), started running the Warsaw Zoo in the late 1920s. The film starts in the summer of 1939 with Antonina on her morning bike ride through the idyllic grounds, where camels, monkeys, elephants, and tigers all frolic. Within a few weeks, however, the serenity is shattered as the Nazis invade Poland, and a combination of bombs and soldiers reduce the zoo (and the city as a whole) to rubble.

As all of the city’s Jewish population is rounded up and imprisoned in the Ghetto, the Zabinskis decide to use the defunct zoo to their advantage, realizing it could be the perfect hiding place for Jews—serving as a halfway-house of sorts for refugees on the path to freedom.

With the permission of their pre-war acquaintance Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), who was director of the Berlin Zoo and Hitler’s chief zoologist, the Zabinskis convert the space into a pig farm, ostensibly to provide food for the German soldiers but in reality to allow the refugees to hide in plain sight. The longer the subterfuge goes on, the higher the stakes; Heck’s long-held infatuation with Antonina grows as all the while more and more Jewish refugees are welcomed to the zoo.

While The Zookeeper’s Wife never leaves the environs of Warsaw, just enough of the war’s larger atrocities are spoken of or hinted at that the audience gets ample perspective. Particularly harrowing is a scene following the liquidation of the Ghetto as all the remaining Jews, including the famous Dr. Janusz Korczak (who is no doubt destined to be celebrated with his own feature film someday), are herded onto a train. We know where it’s headed, and even though we don’t see its fate, we know enough for it to create a haunting, lasting impression.

Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider), working from a script by Angela Workman, brilliantly brings the Zabinskis’ story to life, using nuance and understatement to powerful effect. Chastain gives a riveting, expertly restrained performance as Antonina, and though Heck is not nearly as well drawn as a character, Brühl still brings enough menace to overcome it. Also worth noting is Shira Haas, whose performance as a brutalized teenage refugee is perhaps the most memorable of the bunch.

Through The Zookeeper’s Wife never quite rises to the level of, say, Schindler’s List (but honestly, what has?), it’s no less important a story, and it’s told very well. The Zabinskis may be lesser-known heroes, but they’ve finally been given the recognition they deserve.


4/5 stars

'The Zookeeper's Wife' trailer


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)