Hollywood director plans film for Wojtek the bear

The Wojtek statue in situ in Princes Street Gardens. Picture: Jon Savage
The Wojtek statue in situ in Princes Street Gardens. Picture: Jon Savage
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HE’S the Hollywood director who has worked with screen stars as varied as Vinnie Jones and Vanessa Redgrave.

Now writer and filmmaker Brendan Foley is set to make the 10,000-mile round trip from Los Angeles to Edinburgh to help unveil a new statue of Wojtek the bear in Princes Street Gardens.

Mr Foley, who is currently working on a film script telling the story of the iconic soldier bear, will join Second World War veterans and Polish dignitaries as the new sculpture is officially revealed on Saturday.

Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear, was rescued as a cub by soldiers from the Free Polish Army as they made their way through the Middle East.

The 6ft animal quickly became the platoon’s unlikely mascot, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer with the troops – and even helping the men carry live rounds during battle.

After the war, he travelled to Scotland with the demobbed Polish solders and spent his final years in Edinburgh Zoo.

The new £300,000 statue, designed by artist Alan Beattie Herriot, is the result of a long-running campaign to pay tribute to the bear and the brave soldiers who fought alongside him.

Polish veteran Professor Wojciech Narebski, part of the company that adopted the bear, will officially unveil the artwork to the public shortly after the One o’Clock Gun has sounded on Saturday. A reception will follow at Waverley Court.

Mr Foley, the brains behind Vinnie Jones thriller Johnny Was, said he would be flying in to Edinburgh especially to attend the ceremony.

The Belfast-born director became involved in the bear’s story after stumbling across references to him while researching his bestselling Second World War book, Under The Wire.

He said: “Wojtek brought out the best in people in the worst of times. The statue is an incredible achievement.”

And he revealed his plans for the bear’s antics to be captured on film using a combination of CGI and live action shots – with a couple of “well-known” actors already under consideration to play his Polish minders.

Aileen Orr, founder of the Wojtek Memorial Trust, said she was “thrilled” Mr Foley would be flying across for the unveiling.

The filmmaker will be representing Mrs Orr’s late grandfather, James B Little, whose name will be carved on the granite steps of the memorial.

Mr Little was a regular 
soldier with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and met the Polish troops and their bear in the Middle East. She said: “[My grandfather] always instilled in me a respect and understanding for what the Polish soldiers sacrificed for us in Britain, but so upset was he at the treatment of those same soldiers post war, he never voted again.”