The remake of All Creatures Great and Small premiered on PBS Masterpiece last Sunday, January 10. The series tells the heartwarming and uplifting story of James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph), a young Glaswegian who moves to Yorkshire in hopes of a veterinarian job. With his training and determination, he convinces established veterinary surgeon Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West of Mr. Selfridge) to hire him as an assistant vet. The quaint and sleepy village of Darrowby presents a few challenging pet owners and farmers to James, which sometimes makes treating the animals seem easy.
While the show presents James as a fish out of water in his new surroundings, newcomer Nicholas Ralph adeptly walks the tightrope of arousing our empathy and making us laugh at James. He doesn’t win over all the villagers just yet, but James will win viewers’ hearts with his integrity, heart, and drive. And it’s enough to validate Siegfried’s decision to keep him on.
Rounding out Siegfried’s lively household are the reliable housekeeper, Mrs. Hall (Anne Madeley of The Child in Time), and his problematic younger brother, Tristan (Callum Woodhouse of The Durrells at Corfu). All three characters are essential in James’ formation as a practicing vet in the 1930s: Siegfried for the on-the-job training, Mrs. Hall’s pep talks, and Tristan’s competitive streak.
As one might expect from the title, there are many creatures of all sizes, shapes, and temperaments on the show. There are plenty of cute and funny scenes for you animal enthusiasts out there. The critters require help in all sorts of ways. One amusing exception is when James has to judge the best pet contest. It made me wonder, why can’t all the pets win?
A recurring pet is Tricki-Woo (Derek the dog), an overly pampered dog owned by the ridiculously wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey (Dame Diana Rigg of Victoria, Game of Thrones). It almost reminds me of Downtown Abbey to see her mansion and parties. Riggs really nails it with cluelessly spoiling the dog. Tricki-Woo and Mrs. Pumphrey need to come back in the next season.
James likes Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton of Switched at Birth), the daughter of a local independent farmer. However, maneuvering through that friendship and possibly something more is a complicated road. Imogen Clawson is a joy to watch in her performance as Jenny, Helen’s sister, when the Alderson family’s story is further explored later in the season.
Harry Potter fans might want to tune in because wealthy landowner Hugh Hulton is played by Matthew Lewis. He was good guy Neville Longbottom in the successful Potter films. In Creatures, Lewis is convincing and intriguing with Hugh’s range of politeness, cheerfulness, and even glowering towards James during their encounters. It reminded me somewhat of his acting in the film Me Before You, when he played the rival of Sam Claflin’s character.
My favorite character in Creatures is Siegfried this season. West is very talented at the jokes or when Siegfried rages at Tristan. However, his best moments are in the serious scenes. He uses a sharp gaze to constantly demonstrate that Siegfried is watching everything and reading the situation, albeit sometimes incorrectly. When conversations become personal, West’s eyes widen in a beautiful way to highlight a hint of vulnerability as we get a little more information about Siegfried.
All Creatures Great and Small should be on your list of TV shows to watch in 2021. Not only does it offer a strong cast and lovely countryside views, but there’s a powerful and inspiring message about being kind to others and doing the right thing. It’s timely encouragement for all of us in the new year as we look forward to brighter days.
All Creatures Great and Small airs Sunday evenings on PBS from January 10 to February 21, 2021. Check PBS for information from your local station or to stream episodes on member service PBS Passport.