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‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Returns With Even More Creatures

‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Returns With Even More Creatures
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Ribbon, England – Samuel West was limp.

He said, “A cow stood on my feet.” “repeatedly!”

Stray hooves are among the occupational hazards in All Creatures Great and Small, the pastoral series that unfolds in 1930s Yorkshire. But on an intermittently sunny day here in late June, they presented a special problem for West, who plays veterinary surgeon Siegfried Farnon and was preparing to film a cricket sequence.

He stared at the pitch green, extras mimicking a bat and a ball while the crew set up the shot. “I’m not sure how convincing I am in that scene,” he said.

Then go west. “Here comes the real star of the show,” he said excitedly. Patricia Hodge, who plays the wealthy Mrs. Pomfrey (successor to Diana Rigg, who died in September), arrives holding Derek, the ultra-thin Pekingese known as Tricky Wu on the show.

“I’ll run my lines with Derek,” said Callum Woodhouse, who plays Tristan, Siegfried’s younger brother. “He’s very busy, my love,” replied Hodge.

The cricket match, which takes place in the fictional Yorkshire village of Darby, takes place late in the second seven-part season, which begins on Sunday as a “masterpiece” on PBS. (In Britain, it was broadcast in September on Channel 5.)

Much like this cute show, the contest is a setting for a series of small but important moments for the main characters: a first kiss, a closeness of brothers, a kind gesture toward a rival. As in the first season of All Creatures, a cheerful and upbeat tone prevails despite the distant rumble of war. (It’s now 1938 in the story.)

When the first season aired in Britain in September 2020, that tone proved just right for a country reeling from a severe pandemic. Featuring a mostly non-popular cast, plenty of big animals and gorgeous vistas of remote snowy countryside, “All Creatures” attracted more than four million viewers per episode and was the highest-rated show on Channel 5 since 2016.

When I arrived in the United States in January, days after the January 6 riots on Capitol Hill, the response was similar. “Suddenly there was nothing I wanted to watch more than this cute show, with its low-stakes plots, lush landscapes, adorable animals, and a group of basically nice people,” Alan Sepinwall wrote in a Rolling Stone representative review.

Season two arrives during another coronavirus spike and amid a similarly deep political divide. But will you get the same grateful reaction now that we are no longer in lockdown, and perhaps (maybe) more accustomed to the vicissitudes of pandemic life?

“I think the response will be stronger this time around because no one expected, a year ago, that we would still be dealing with this in such a brutal way,” said Colin Callender, whose company, Playground, produced the series. “It would again be a tremendous escape from the trials and tribulations we deal with every day.”

The British response to season two points to Callender’s health. “Balm for the Soul,” Anita Singh wrote in The Telegraph. “His winning formula seems even more magical,” Stuart Heritage wrote in the Guardian.

The show is based on the bestselling books of James Heriot (whose real name is James Alfred White), who moved from Scotland to the Yorkshire Dales in 1937 to work in a rural veterinary clinic. His calm and charming stories, with a sense of humor and ironic realization, tell of the triumphs and disappointments of daily life in small villages and on small farms. By the time Wight died in 1995, his seven books had sold over 60 million copies and inspired a successful television adaptation and two films.

Ben Vanstone, principal writer on All Creatures, said he attempted to capture the “true heart, warmth, and humanity” of Heriot’s writing. The new season maintains the sluggish pace of season one, as young James Heriot (Nicolas Ralph) has come from Glasgow to join Siegfried Farnon’s veterinary clinic. He lives and works in an older vet’s house, called Skeldale House, along with Tristan and his housekeeper, Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley). Early on, James falls in love with Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton), the daughter of a farmer improperly betrothed to a qualified landowner (played by Matthew Lewis).

“Season two is about the next step in James’ life,” Vanstone said in a video interview. “He has to choose where he wants to be; it’s not just a romance between Helen and James, but between James and the Yorkshire Dales.”

In a recent phone interview, Ralph, who is a real-life Scot, said the new season finds James “growing in himself, and more assertive about taking the practice forward with the times”. Like his character, he added, he now feels more confident about the job.

“Season two includes more animals, and I loved having to do the more complicated procedures,” he said, referring to a scene in which James helps with the difficult birth of a foal, and another scene in which he has to put his nose-ring on the bull. “Scary,” he said, “but thankfully, James is a bit nervous, too.”

The new season also follows Siegfried, who was a surrogate father to Tristan after their father’s death, as he tries to change his often dismissive attitude toward the younger man.

“Sigfried would like to think of himself as the patriarch, but there is a natural erosion of his power as James and Tristan begin to prove themselves,” West said in a follow-up phone interview. “In my own life, I’ve come to realize that parenting is gardening, not carpentry — you have to let people grow on themselves, not try to shape them as you wish. Siegfried has to learn that Tristan is his man.”

As an upbeat Tristan, Woodhouse also got more time with the animals, noting his “amazing world-class parrot who knew how to play dead” was his highlight. There was also an unforgettable cow birth scene.

He explained that animal protection regulations allowed the cow to be on the ground for only five minutes, with the director shooting as many as possible during that time. He said, “Someone took, the cow sprayed urine on my neck and I had to keep going.”

Vanstone said that Helen, who canceled her wedding at the eleventh hour in the first season finale, is the primary focus in the new episodes. “Helen has to decide what she wants,” he said, and she “needs time and space for herself.”

Shenton, who plays Helen, noted that in the books, women are only seen from James’s perspective. “Helen has a lot more agency here,” she said.

“I love the way women are multi-faceted,” she added. “Don’t worry Helen – you are so invested in Mrs. Hall’s trip!”

The contained housekeeper, who quietly rules the Skeldale House, is a minor character in the Herriot books but an important presence in the series, with a somewhat mysterious past life.

“This season, she meets a nice village man of her generation who fought World War I,” Madley said. “They are the adults who have experienced losses and traumas, but I think she is about to be ready for a new adventure.”

Mrs. Hall and her new friend, Gerald, are the gurgles of war and listening on the radio as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tries to reassure the public about Hitler’s intentions.

“You have to remember what the characters know and what they don’t,” Madley said. “They feel they can be optimistic.”

In a cricket match – during which West honorably disavowed his bowling duties, despite his bad hooves – thoughts of war were far from the interests of the characters as they hit, drink tea and talk.

“Today we feel that tremendous forces have invaded our lives – the pandemic, politics, governments,” West said in a subsequent interview. “But in this world, the frame is narrow and the issues feel tangible, and I think people really like it.”

“Does the cow fall?” He completed. “That’s enough drama for us.”

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