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Quiet in the countryside

(Playground Television [UK] Ltd)

Television

Quiet in the countryside

Charming British series All Creatures Great and Small is a refreshing respite from a world on its head

As I sifted through movie reviewing options after an extreme end to 2020 (and an even more extreme beginning to 2021), the usual dramas with their intrigue and action, and the comedies with their snarky barbs at folks outside the tribe, struck me like hot water on sunburned skin. I felt too raw to engage with any of them. Then PBS’ Masterpiece came to the rescue with a series that was just what the doctor, or in this case, the veterinarian, ordered.

It’s a minor miracle that the U.K.’s Channel 5 even decided to remake All Creatures Great and Small, the hit 1970s series adapted from James Herriot’s best-selling memoirs. A collection of homely and charming tales about a Depression-era vet working in a small English village, the show contains no sex, no violence, and only a smattering of minor salty language. The highest stakes are whether a cow has been misdiagnosed or whether a racehorse will have to be put down.

“Who did they make this show for?” one mainstream critic, who found it too mild, asked grumpily. “Me!” I wanted to shout. They made it for people like me, who are weary of being assaulted by all that is ugly and crass and contentious, who long for something comforting and community-minded. All Creatures Great and Small couldn’t offer more warmth and neighborliness if it was a steaming pot of tea next to a plate of shortbread biscuits.

Playground Television [UK) Ltd

(Playground Television [UK) Ltd)

Which is not to say there’s no conflict in the show. It’s just that the conflict arises from clashes in personality that give viewers reasons to share a good-natured chuckle rather than feel superior. 

Take young James, for instance. He arrives in the tiny town of Darrowby fresh out of an urban Glasgow veterinary school. His tidy tweed suit and carefully laced Oxford shoes are no match for the lush, rolling dales of Yorkshire, which, beautiful as they may be in a panorama, can get fairly mucky close up. His timid city manners are no match for the earthy, idiosyncratic British characters he meets on the local farms—especially his cantankerous employer, senior vet Siegfried Farnon, who chomps at his pipe and barks out orders more fiercely than any of his canine clients.

Playground Television [UK] Ltd

(Playground Television [UK] Ltd)

As James makes mistakes and learns his trade, he and the locals argue but still come together at the end of the day for a pint in the pub. There’s no question of anyone in this community excommunicating another. James even manages a friendly relationship with his rival for a local farm girl’s affections. When differences do grow more serious, the locals encourage each other to look beneath the surface to find the best in their fellow man. No one here is dismissed as a “garbage person,” to use that odious Twitter term.

Funny as the show often is, James, Siegfried, and the other inhabitants of Darrowby left me wishing the majority of Americans still gathered regularly in a place like the pub or, even better, the local church after a hard week. A place where we’re forced to reconcile our differences and exorcise our animosities face to face. 

All Creatures Great and Small doesn’t boast the addictive quality needed to earn that highest term of honor critics throw around today—­“bingeable.” Rather, it’s more like a nourishing soup, seasoned with the wisdom of 1 Thessalonians 4:11: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”

Comments

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  • Laura W
    Posted: Mon, 01/18/2021 03:39 pm

    Just watched the first episode. It looks rather old fashioned--in all the best ways. (PBS has the first couple episodes free to watch right now.)

  • SW
    Posted: Mon, 01/18/2021 11:20 pm

    Enjoyed reading the books and watching the series the first time, and am enjoying it again!

     

  • Janet B
    Posted: Tue, 01/19/2021 10:01 am

    I remember the old series.  I have seen it offered on Brit Box I think.  It is bingeable!  How can I see the new one?

  •  dcsfoyle's picture
    dcsfoyle
    Posted: Tue, 01/19/2021 11:42 am

    Our local station is showing them in the Masterpiece slot at 8 PM on Sunday. In the US, you can also stream the first two via the PBS Video app, they're adding one a week after they air on local stations.

  •  mizpahlady's picture
    mizpahlady
    Posted: Tue, 01/19/2021 12:47 pm

    If you donate 60.00 to the locate PBS station, you can sign up for PBS Passport.   Considering that through Amazon, 4.99 a month or 5.99 is standard, it seems reasonable, and you now have access to the archives for PBS and Masterpiece Theatre.    

  • Katie
    Posted: Thu, 01/21/2021 10:57 am

    I love this show!

  • DD
    Posted: Sun, 01/24/2021 08:06 am

    While I agree that the show has lots of good qualities, the kinds of  things I look for in TV, I was disappointed in some aspects of it.  I started reading James Herriot's wonderful books as a teen in the mid-seventies, and have read them multiple times since then.  Some of the characters, Siegfried in particular, were changed almost beyond recognition.  I understand that adapting books for TV or movies often means changes, but this was disappointing.