Edinburgh Zoo's most famous former resident is set to star in his own big budget movie.
Soldier Bear, a film about Wojtek the beer-drinking, dancing bear who became a war hero, could be hitting the big screen as early as 2017.
Writer, director and producer Brendan Foley says there has been enthusiasm for the action-drama from film specialists in Europe and America.
“It is such an incredible story and people tend to fall in love with it - I am just yet another of the fans," said Brendan.
“I thought it was a tremendously visual story and it has a very unusual mixture that it is very poignant but also quite funny.
“Movies like War Horse showed there is a real appetite for movies about animals during war time.”
Known for his work in The Riddle and Johnny Was, Brendan became captivated by the life of Wojtek the bear after stumbling upon his remarkable story while researching for the book Under the Wire.
The film will follow the life of Wojtek, a 500-pound Syrian brown bear. Originally adopted as a mascot by the Polish Army in Iran, Wojtek became such a part of army life that he was fully enlisted as a soldier with his own rank and number.
The bear lived in a tent and was taught how to salute. He became famous for his role in the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944 when he used his paws to help move heavy boxes of mortar shells. The image of him carrying a shell became the regiment's official emblem.
When the war ended, Wojtek was sent to Berwickshire with some of his Polish comrades. He was taken into care of Edinburgh Zoo in 1947 where he lived out the rest of his life.
The bear’s later years in Scotland will feature in the movie with the plot starting and ending at Edinburgh Zoo with a flashback on the bear’s life from cub to war hero.
Planning for the film first began when the Belfast producer contacted the Wojtek Memorial Trust founder Aileen Orr, who is the author of Wojtek the Bear Polish Hero.
Aileen grew up listening to stories about Wojtek from her grandfather who served with the King's Own Scottish Borderers and spent around eight months with Wojtek while posted in the Middle East. He was also later reunited with Wojtek in Scotland.
Aileen went on to marry the man who actually owned the farm and camp where Wojtek had once entertained the willing crowd, and she decided to create a memorial for the beloved bear.
She published her book about Wojtek six years ago and has been involved in West Princes Street Gardens 10ft bronze sculpture memorial by artist Alan Beattie Herriot, which is due to be unveiled on November 7.
She is now looking ahead to the next chapter in Wotek's story, with a continued dedication to treasure the story of Wojtek and the soldiers he worked alongside.
"I immediately knew that Brendan had got this story and was somebody I knew had a track record of telling stories within a World War Two setting," Aileen said.
"He is very passionate about this story. This is very much about the next generation."
At the moment, Brendan and the team are in talks with a US investment consortium and a Polish special effects house.
Already on board for the project are Ned Dowd, known for his work on Apocalypto and The Last of the Mohicans and Gavin James who has worked on Alexanderand Basic Instinct 2.
They hope to have development completed and shooting underway next year in the UK, with a release date expected in 2017/2018.
“I would like to work with Northern Ireland Screen and Creative Scotland as local partners, but the decision on where to shoot will be taken further down the line, based on what’s best for the movie,” Brendan said.
“We’ve also had great enthusiasm from Edinburgh Zoo, justifiably proud of their most famous former resident.”
Part of the challenge for this film will be the filming of the bear, a character which they plan to create by combining three elements.
“It will be a real bear for some shots, it will be an animatronics bear for some of it - a mechanical bear for want of a better word - and the bulk of it will be a CGI," explains Brendan.
“A large part of the battle will be the integration of those three aspects into one believable bear.”
And as for the cast…
“It is a movie of some size so the only way movies of that size work is if they have at least two major actors - world famous actors," Brendan adds.
“We will have two dashing young Polish soldiers - one younger and one slightly older.
"It is a large enough movie that we would be looking for major stars who would be part of that.
“I will be very proud of it if it comes off.
“We are fortunate of people like Aileen Orr, who have spent an enormous amount of time and effort to gain more recognition for the bear and the soldiers who looked after him, so hopefully the film will be part of a larger effort going on around education.
“We are telling the story of the Poles' battle in Italy and Monte Cassino which was the nearest thing to hell on earth that anyone experienced in World War Two - some of the survivors that I have got to know still have nightmares about it.
“The bear is a way to show that people kept their humanity even in the worst of circumstances.”