sat 20/07/2024

All Creatures Great and Small, Channel 5 review - revival of vintage vet show is full of Yorkshire promise | reviews, news & interviews

All Creatures Great and Small, Channel 5 review - revival of vintage vet show is full of Yorkshire promise

All Creatures Great and Small, Channel 5 review - revival of vintage vet show is full of Yorkshire promise

Comforting escapism for an age of pandemics and eco-panic

James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) with Clive the bull

The BBC’s version of James Herriot’s books about his life as a Yorkshire vet became a weekend TV staple, running for seven series and a couple of Christmas specials between the late Seventies and the start of the Nineties.

This elegantly-mounted revival is a partnership between Channel 5 and PBS in the States, and judging from this opening episode it has the potential to pick up where its much-loved predecessor left off.

It’s 1937, and in dingy, depressed Glasgow, the young James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) has trained as a vet but is having trouble finding a job. His father, an unemployed musician, is working at the docks, and his wife is urging their son to follow suit. “It’s good to dream, but it’s also good to wake up again and see the world as it truly is,” she frets.

All Creatures Great and Small, Channel 5But of course in the nick of time a letter arrives from the Yorkshire veterinary surgery of Siegfried Farnon, inviting young Herriot for an interview, and in the blink of an edit he is transported from gloomy Glasgow to the epic widescreen landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales, idyllic under a radiant blue sky. The message about the healing qualities of unspoiled nature could hardly be more timely in these days of climate change and eco-panic.

The mixture of photogenic wildlife, ravishing Dales scenery and obstinate local eccentrics with accents you could build a barn door with looks likely to lure audiences who enjoy escapist comfort food like The Durrells or Doc Martin, and the show’s focus on such timeless concerns as community spirit and self reliance will doubtless be welcomed by many as a refuge from epidemics, lockdowns and riots in Trafalgar Square.

The Farnon household (pictured above) revolves around the cantankerous and absent-minded Siegfried (originally made memorable by Robert Hardy), played with tweed suit and pipe by a suitably irascible Samuel West. Anna Madeley steps up to the plate as Mrs Hall (that TV staple, the mettlesome housekeeper upon whom the entire drama depends) while Ralph’s Herriot gets the balance about right between wet-behind-the-ears gaucheness and a dogged determination to prove himself. Coming up in succeeding episodes are Diana Rigg as Mrs Pumphrey, owner of pampered Pekingese Tricki Woo, and Callum Woodhouse as Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan. Meanwhile farmer Helen Anderson (Rachel Shenton) is already shaping up as James's love interest.

The trick for the actors is not to be overshadowed by the animals, including Jess the retriever, assorted cats and horses, Clive the enormous farmyard bull and cows in various states of distress. A bigger trick may be Channel 5’s growing success with original drama, following the brilliant Blood and the successful (though ridiculous) The Deceived. Nice one.

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