I held back on watching All Creatures Great and Small, the new Masterpiece Theatre series based on James Herriot’s enduring and beloved books about life as a country vet in the Yorkshire dales in the early to mid-20th century. These books are a sort of holy writ for me because my first introduction to them was during an extended dark and sad period of my life. I wrapped myself up in Herriot’s vivid tales of animals and people. They were just what I needed: an alternative reality that felt real and solid and full of goodness despite it all.
Herriot’s stories were made into a movie (starring Anthony Hopkins as Herriot) and then into a long-running television series in the late 1970s and 1990s. I have memorized long swaths of that original TV series. It is a treasure, but one that is hard to find and a bit dated, but it really holds up. In a long-form television series, story lines and characters get to take their time.
When I heard there would be a fresh, new telling of All Creatures, I was equal parts delighted and wary.
Having binge-watched the series in two nights, I can now attest that there was no reason for wariness: it’s wonderful. I was a little disoriented at first, as in a dream where all your family members have different faces but are still recognizably themselves.
I am dying to compare notes on the great and small differences between the two TV series, but mainly I just want everyone to watch this new one, enjoy it, and know that if you love these characters, you can get your fill in the old series. (The older series definitely has more up-close animal husbandry, more cold stone barn floors, and more accents that will be totally new to American ears.)
Mind you, MDK’s own DG Strong has described All Creatures as “mumsy.” As a proudly mumsy personage myself (hero: Aunt Bea), I am indignant—but he has a point.
It’s mumsy, but excellent.
Don’t even get me started on the handknits— a stunning stranded scarf and hat is actually a plot point! (Where is the pattern? I demand a certified authentic replica pattern!) I could do a PhD thesis on just the sweater vest differences between the two series. (Tristan used to be more pastel, for one thing. Everybody was more colorful in the older series. What is up with that—research, or art direction?)
Ann, I’m sorry to report that the cat content is pretty slim. To meet your needs, I recommend the older series or the books themselves.
Right now All Creatures Great and Small is airing on PBS stations in the US; I watched it on the PBS Passport streaming service.
P.S. There will be a second series.