Friday, May 20, 2022

Tonight's TV: All Creatures Great and Small (2020) - Series 1

Growing up in the '70s I was a huge fan of the British TV series ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL (1978-90). It was a treat Sunday nights on PBS!

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL was often "laugh out loud" funny and had a superb cast, including Peter Davison (also known for CAMPION and DR. WHO) and Robert Hardy. Indeed, I consider Hardy's portrayal of the mercurial senior veterinarian Siegfried Farnon to be one of the all-time great TV performances and characters. It was a joy to be able to collect that series on DVD and share it in turn with my own children as they were growing up.

Naturally, when I first heard about the series being remade I had little interest in it. What could compare to the beloved original? Yet a number of people whose opinions I respect, including longtime commenter Jerry Entract, told me the new version was wonderful and I should give it a try.

I picked up the DVD set recently when I was in the mood for some mellow "comfort TV," and I don't know when I've raced through a TV series more quickly! It is indeed a very special show in its own right. Watching this warm series is something like wrapping oneself in a cozy blanket while enjoying a cup of hot cocoa.

The program follows the rough outlines of the original series and books by James Herriot. Circa the 1930s, James (Nicholas Ralph), newly graduated from veterinary school, travels from his home in Glasgow to apply for a position with Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) in Yorkshire.

Siegfried, a widower who is more parent than brother to his "challenging" sibling Tristan (Callum Woodhouse), is emotional and unpredictable, but he's also fair and kind underneath the bluster.

As James gradually settles into his new job, he also begins to fit in among the people of "the Dales," and he finds himself attracted to farmer's daughter Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton, who reminds me a great deal of Marvel's Hayley Atwell). Helen, however, is soon engaged to wealthy Hugh (Matthew Lewis), whom she's known since childhood.

I particularly liked the way this series fleshed out the character of Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley), the housekeeper, making her a much more integral part of the story as she deftly "manages" the disparate personalities living under the same roof at Skeldale House. Mrs. Hall might be my favorite character, from the moment she greets James when he arrives for his interview and encourages Siegfried to hire him. Although emotionally wounded in a somewhat mysterious past, she doesn't hesitate to speak her mind and give advice to any of the vets when it's called for.

I also appreciate the way Tristan's character evolves. At first he seems to be simply a ne'er-do-well who refuses to apply himself to his veterinary studies, but over time we see that while he may struggle with learning from books, he's skilled when it comes to "hands on" interactions with both animals and people. When James is unsure how to save a cow struggling to breathe, it's Tristan who pulls books off the shelf and draws up the plan for James's surgery, and he also shows sensitivity dealing with a little boy whose donkey has had the misfortune to eat mistletoe.

Even before watching the original ALL CREATURES series in the '70s I loved Timothy West in EDWARD THE KING (1975); current ALL CREATURES star Samuel West is his son. Samuel even played the ill-fated Prince Albert Victor ("Eddy") on EDWARD THE KING as a young child. West makes Siegfried his own creation, no small feat in the wake of Robert Hardy's shadow.

As for Ralph and Shenton, they are simply lovely, subtly conveying their attraction for one another along with Helen's growing doubts about marrying Hugh. Shenton is bright-eyed and intelligent as Helen, at the ready with her honest opinions; like Siegfried, she serves as a quasi parent to a sibling, in this case her young sister Jenny (Imogen Clawson). Ralph is an empathetic James, a quiet man who also shows considerable courage from time to time as he steps out on his own as a practicing veterinarian handling difficult cases.

And after all this, I haven't even yet mentioned that the series also features the late Dame Diana Rigg as wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey, owner of the very pampered dog Trickie-Woo. She's delightfully funny in her inability to resist giving Trickie-Woo goodies he shouldn't have. Rigg sadly died after filming Season 1; Mrs. Pumphrey was recast with Patricia Hodge for Season 2.

I'll be watching Season 2 shortly, and I'm delighted to know that Season 3 is currently filming, with Season 4 also promised for the future.

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Highly recommended -- and thanks to all who so highly recommended it to me!


Anonymous Barry Lane said...

In the 1975 television, film, Simon Ward, a great friend who passed one day before Claude, co-starred with Anthony Hopkins, who is still going strong.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

I am so happy you found this little gem of a show. Yes, it's a remake but a good one. Some fans of the original don't like it but I must say, considering it's the new 20's (and they've been lame and boring so far) it's just good. A lovely show which mostly tries to keep the spirit, minus a few concessions.
But all in all, I like it.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

I'm so glad you were able to finally watch this show. I too truly loved the "original" and especially Robert Hardy. When I heard they were making a remake I thought, no way. No one can compare to Robert Hardy. But due to restrictions and staying home so much and there not being much to watch and get into I decided to give it chance. So glad I did. It was very warm and comforting and just what we needed. I also really enjoyed the second season though I must say I really missed Diana Rigg because I've been a fan of hers since the Emma Peel days. The new Mrs. Pumphrey is fine but one gets used to a certain actor in a short amount of time. Looking forward to season 3!

12:04 PM  
Blogger J-Dub said...

I was never a fan of the 1978 I was a baseball-obsessed kid. But this version came along at a time when my wife started watching it, and I was hooked. In fact, there's a blog-a-thon which was just announced about Bond girls but you can't write about them in Bond I'm taking Dame Diana Rigg in All Creatures Great and Small :)

1:55 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm delighted to hear from other fans of this series! Including fellow fans of the original TV program. I've started watching the second season this weekend. :)

Barry Lane, although I've heard of the 1975 film, I've never seen it. How interesting you knew Simon Ward so well. What a very sad time you had when he passed so close in time to your wife.

J-Dub, that's great about your blogathon entry! I'll have to seek it out.

Best wishes,

11:38 PM  

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