sat 04/02/2023

All Creatures Great and Small Christmas Special, Channel 5 review - life during wartime with the Yorkshire vets | reviews, news & interviews

All Creatures Great and Small Christmas Special, Channel 5 review - life during wartime with the Yorkshire vets

All Creatures Great and Small Christmas Special, Channel 5 review - life during wartime with the Yorkshire vets

Siegfried Farnon grapples with an ethical crisis

Siegfried and Tristan Farnon and the Skeldale House crew

As the third series of All Creatures… ended a couple of months ago, Britain had just declared itself at war with Germany and the men of Darrowby were queuing resolutely in the town square to join the armed forces. Intriguingly, as the credits rolled, it seemed that among them was one of our headlining vets, Tristan Farnon (Callum Woodhouse).

So it proved, and Tristan’s determination to join the war effort, and the despairing efforts to stop him by his older brother Siegfried (Samuel West), provided the running theme of this Yuletide one-off. Screenwriter Ben Vanstone, who must still be counting his blessings for the way the rejuvenated All Creatures… has blasted off into ratings heaven, had devised a plotline whereby Siegfried was prepared to commit a grotesque breach of veterinary ethics if it would enable him to pluck Tristan out of the firing line and back into the friendly embrace of the family business.

The unwitting fall guy in this dastardly scheme was River, the racehorse belonging to a man we know only as “the colonel”. River had an injured leg, but the colonel was determined that his horse should nonetheless race. He had tasked his underling, the unloveable Major Sebright Saunders (Michael Maloney), with strong-arming Siegfried into passing the beast as hot to trot, and Siegfried’s protestations that the horse might be left permanently lame were brusquely brushed aside. However, were the colonel to obtain a deferment for Tristan’s call-up, might that change Siegfried’s mind?All Creatures Great and Small Christmas SpecialWell it would, as it happened, and the prickly ethical dilemma simmered away nicely while we caught up with the other goings-on in Skeldale House (and, of course, in Mrs Pumphrey’s stately Pumphrey Manor). Since it’s Christmas we can perhaps overlook a slide towards chocolate-box treacliness in some of the action. For instance, it was startling to see the way the Farnons’ admirable housekeeper Mrs Hall (Anna Madeley) allowed her emotions to bubble up and boil over when she thought she’d lost her potential paramour Gerald (Will Thorp). So much so, indeed, that when he belatedly reappeared, Mrs H had somehow discovered the gift of running in slow motion, as though in a shampoo commercial, as she flung herself towards him for a long-delayed kiss.

The show’s penchant for a spot of diversity has previously encompassed black and mixed race characters, and this time the Farnons were playing host to a young Jewish evacuee, Eva Feldman (Ella Bernstein). A confident young person, she treated the household to a Hebrew song for Hannukah, though the way everyone reacted with joy and delight when Eva woke them all up at an unearthly hour on Christmas morning sailed miles beyond the limits of plausibility.

But there was, at last, an unpicking of the historically fractious relationship between the Farnon brothers. With the prospect of Tristan’s departure looming, Siegfried confessed how he’d felt upstaged by, and jealous of, his younger brother, while Tristan belatedly expressed his gratitude for the way Siegfried had stepped up in loco parentis after their parents had died. West’s delivery of Siegfried’s anguished line “I bloody love you, you damned fool!” was the kind of moment that reminds you that All Creatures… is a cut above mere comfort viewing. The episode ended with an almost Brief Encounter-ish scene involving railway stations and steam trains, as our cast uneasily faced an uncertain future.

Comments

If Eva joins the cast as a regular it will test my love of this show. I’m happy for the actress getting her first big break, and I’m sure she’s very sweet, but precocious children played in so mannerly a fashion are a bad fit for this series.

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