fri 16/04/2021

All Creatures Great and Small: Christmas Special, Channel 5 review - big and little dramas in the Dales | reviews, news & interviews

All Creatures Great and Small: Christmas Special, Channel 5 review - big and little dramas in the Dales

All Creatures Great and Small: Christmas Special, Channel 5 review - big and little dramas in the Dales

Revived vet show hits a Yuletide home run

James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) and Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton)

Having launched their new-look All Creatures… back in September to wild acclaim, it was a no-brainer for Channel 5 to commission this Christmas Special. The only mystery is why they didn’t schedule it for Christmas Day, where it would probably have seen off most of the not-very-thrilling competition.

Having launched their new-look All Creatures… back in September to wild acclaim, it was a no-brainer for Channel 5 to commission this Christmas Special. The only mystery is why they didn’t schedule it for Christmas Day, where it would probably have seen off most of the not-very-thrilling competition.

It picked up where the previous six episodes left off, using the annual Christmas party at the home of Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) and his veterinary practice in Darrowby as a convenient device for bringing all the various strands of the story together. With the exception of the sadly deceased Diana Rigg, who played Mrs Pumphrey, it was as if they’d never been away – Mrs Hall the housekeeper (Anna Madeley) was desperately hoping her estranged son Edward would come home for Christmas, Siegfried has his eye on Mrs Hall’s friend Dorothy (Maimie McCoy) but his courtship skills have atrophied like Victorian plumbing in a hard-water area, and his wayward brother Tristan (Callum Woodhouse) is still waiting to hear if he’s finally passed his veterinary exams.

But never mind all that. What we really wanted to know was whether local farmer Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) was going to marry posh lord of the manor Hugh Hulton (Matthew Lewis, alias Harry Potter’s Neville Longbottom). And if she did, what would become of James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph), who is silently carrying a torch for the doughty Daleswoman? “I couldn’t be happier for Helen,” he claimed unconvincingly. As Christmas Eve revellers frolicked under the mistletoe chez Farnon, Helen was hailed with good wishes by all and sundry for her forthcoming wedding the following morning. The groom, meanwhile, had gone down the pub with his mates, and will probably live to regret it.

It was sentimental stuff, but the characters ring true and the performances sparkle like frost in the moonlight. West has slid comfortably into the role of curmudgeon-with-a-heart-of-gold, and scenes with his frequently exasperating brother are always a treat. Woodhouse, for his part, is grabbing more of the limelight with his depiction of Tristan as a perpetual teenager forever chasing girls and the next round of drinks. However, there was a glimmer of hope for his professional future when he cured Bob the donkey of a bout of mistletoe poisoning (the secret is to flush the animal through with paraffin), even if Siegfried had to varnish the truth about his exam results a little.

But the issue of Helen’s nuptials was the elephant in the room. It prompted the narrative to proceed via a circuitous route, including a trip into the spectacular landscapes of the high Dales where James had to tend to Bert and Anne Chapman’s border collie, who was undergoing a difficult pregnancy. This gave screenwriter Ben Vanstone the opportunity to introduce some back story from Anne (Cleo Sylvestre, pictured above with Dave Hill), a black woman who’d been married to Bert for 40 years. “There weren’t many round here that wanted to see a Yorkshireman marry a woman that looked like me,” she said, reflecting on the social rejection they’d suffered. It deftly leveraged some dramatic value from the characters, rather than merely planting a token non-white actor into the action as a quota-filling gesture. Sylvestre, of course, is something of a trailblazer in her own right.

If you want to know the outcome, watch it on catch-up. Suffice to say that James found himself rather too literally at a crossroads, both physically and metaphorically.

James found himself rather too literally at a crossroads, both physically and metaphorically

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Lovely Christmas episode, all you need is love...thanks for the wrap!

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