NEW YORK (CNS) — “All Creatures Great and Small” is just what the doctor — in this case, the veterinarian — ordered: a soothing tonic for tense nerves, a wholesome and entertaining drama that can be enjoyed by the entire family.
The seven-part series, a “Masterpiece” presentation, debuted Jan. 10 on PBS. Jan. 10, 9-10 p.m. EST. It will continue airing 9-10 p.m. EST Sundays through Feb. 21 and is streaming on PBS Passport.
This is the latest adaptation of the popular novels by James Herriot, the pen name of James Alfred Wight (1916-1995). Wight wrote about his own experiences treating animals in the English countryside before World War II — maneuvering, as he did so, a beautiful landscape filled with quirky yet endearing people.
Fortunately, creators Colin Callender and Melissa Gallant steer clear of reinvention, sticking closely to the source material. The result is a more populist “Downton Abbey” with superb acting and magnificent vistas. Add to the mix a veritable zoo of adorable creatures, and you have the recipe for grand entertainment.
The program’s title is taken from an 1848 Anglican hymn written by Cecil Frances Alexander: “All things bright and beautiful / All creatures great and small / All things wise and wonderful / The Lord God made them all.”
Newly graduated from veterinary school, James (Nicholas Ralph) leaves his home in inner-city Glasgow, Scotland, to take up a position in a Yorkshire village called Darrowby. To James, Darrowby might as well be on the moon. The culture shock is palpable as a classic fish-out-of-water struggles to adapt to local customs — and the dialect.
James’ crusty employer is Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), who runs the local practice. “The animals are the easy part,” he advises his new assistant. “It’s the people who cause all of the bother.”
James is encouraged by Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley), the resident housekeeper and frequent dispenser of homespun wisdom. Adding to the drama is the arrival of Siegfried’s ne’er-do-well brother, Tristan (Callum Woodhouse), who prefers drinking pints in the pub to helping the family business.
As James makes his rounds and finds his footing, treating the great (bulls) and the small (cats), a lively cast of human characters is introduced. He’s attracted to feisty farmer’s daughter Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton), even though she is being wooed by Hugh Hulton (Matthew Lewis), a wealthy landowner.
Adding comic relief is the late Diana Rigg as the delightfully dotty Mrs. Pumphrey. This grande dame dotes on her beloved Pekingese, Tricki Woo, feeding the overindulged pup beef Wellington.
Heartwarming and uplifting — and inspiring a few tears along the way — “All Creatures Great and Small” is a celebration of the human spirit and a welcome reminder of the glory of God’s creation.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.