Roush Review: The ‘Creature’ Comforts of James Herriot

All Creatures Great and Small Nicholas Ralph
Review
Matt Squire/Playground Television (UK) Ltd.

“Old ways are the old ways for a reason, lad,” a farmer chides fledgling veterinarian James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) as he tries newfangled methods to get a cow back on her feet.

PBS’s Masterpiece has taken that nostalgic maxim to heart with a lovingly genteel series based on Herriot’s enduringly popular All Creatures Great and Small book franchise (60 million-plus copies sold), which inspired an earlier adaptation that aired on public TV in the 1970s and ’80s. The wild beauty of the Yorkshire Dales, and the timeliness of these stories about animals and their devoted human owners, make the sweetly sentimental Creatures a comforting and at times even compelling world to revisit.

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Ralph brings an endearing quality of anxious earnestness to Herriot, newly graduated in 1937 when he heads out from his native Scotland to follow his vocation. He’s especially eager to please his gruff boss, Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), as well as the watchful locals who are skeptical of the young interloper. Among his early supporters: Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton), a free-spirited farmer’s daughter who instantly captures his fancy. While it’s clear Harriot has a lot to learn, about life at the very least, he’s more reliable than Siegfried’s feckless brother, Tristan (Callum Woodhouse), whose return from university disrupts the Farnon household, indulgently ruled by housekeeper Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley).

“The animals are the easy part, it’s the people cause all the bother,” Siegfried warns Harriot early in his residency. This is never more true than during several amusing encounters with the eccentric aristocrat Mrs. Pumphrey (the late Diana Rigg), who may be spoiling Tricki-Woo, her plump Pekingese, to death with rich treats. Somehow, both the lady and her beloved pet take a shine to James instantly.

Dame Diana Rigg All Creatures Great and Small Masterpiece

(Ed Miller/Playground Television (UK) Ltd.)

So, I expect, will many others.

All Creatures Great and Small, Series Premiere, Sunday, January 10, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)