Review of New PBS Series: All Creatures Great and Small


PBS Masterpiece Theatre, which presents adaptations of classic literature, has recently produced a television series: All Creatures Great and Small, a new adaption of the classic memoirs by James Herriot, the world’s most beloved veterinary doctor. 

The books, which cover James Herriot’s life in the Yorkshire dales in the 1930s, have been fan favorites since they were published in the 1970s. Since then, there have been over 60 million copies sold, and there’s a good reason why. Every book in the series is filled with humor, romance, and action; the books are true feel-good reads.

The readers follow James Herriot (played by Nicholas Ralph in the show), as he moves from Glasgow to Darrowby, Yorkshire after graduating from veterinary school. He quickly learns that being a vet in the countryside is not filled with white lab coats and shiny offices, but rather lots of late-night emergencies, scrapes, and mishaps. 

The books are filled with Herriot’s stories of living at Skeldale House, where the veterinary practice is located, with his boss, Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West); Siegfried’s younger brother, Tristan Farnon (Calum Woodhouse), and their housekeeper, Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley).

The three men share hilarious misadventures as bachelors. The series develops their relationship with Mrs. Hall, making them a chaotic and close-knit family for whom readers root and adore. The readers and viewers of the series follow James’s budding romance with Helen Anderson (Rachel Shenton), and then, in the books, their marriage and life together. Other actors and actresses on the show include Matthew Lewis, the Harry Potter star. 

There have already been two movies about the James Herriot books and a hit television series that ran from 1978-80 and returned for another four seasons between 1988 and 1990. While most series adapted from the classic books fall short of the original stories, the first few episodes of All Creatures Great and Small, which premiered in the United States on Sunday.

January 10th, actually lived up to the story’s origins. The scenery was amazing, with beautiful shots panning along the rolling hills, fields bordered with stone walls, twisting roads, and towns nestled in valleys. The period clothing and cars were also fun to see, as well as the adorable animals. Best of all, the cast brought the beloved characters to life on the screen. 

Nicholas Ralph, who portrays James Herriot, commented that he used the books as the principal source for his character.

He said, “[The books] show James’s intelligence and dedication, his compassion for the animals.”

Ralph perfectly portrays James, the slightly awkward yet determined young man. As for the other characters, Siegfried is crabby, forgetful, and hilarious; Mrs. Hall is kind but strict; Tristan is scatter-brained, hilarious, and witty; and Helen is pretty and charming.

Viewers get to witness other beloved characters like Madam Pumphrey and her pampered pup, Tricki Woo. 

The show has received warm reviews, as it is perfect for a family watch. The New York Times said the show “heals cows and soothes souls” and discussed how the show was a pandemic hit in Britain, drawing over five million viewers for each of the six episodes.

All Creatures Great and Small has since become Channel 5’s highest-rated show since 2016.

The executive producer of Masterpiece said that this is because “it has the warmth people are looking for during a really challenging time.” The series will have a second season, which will include more stories from some of the other James Herriot books. 

Just as charming and feel-good as its book counterparts, All Creatures Great and Small promises not to disappoint. Channel 5 reported that there was a large share of viewers in the 16-34 demographic, showing that the series has drawn quite a lot of high-school-aged viewers as well as adults. There may be no better use of an at-home, quarantine evening, than watching the chaotic, picturesque, and heartwarming tale of James Herriot come to life.