Still talking to the animals: ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ returns

'Masterpiece' presents Season 2 of PBS drama reboot

Callum Woodhouse (left) and Nicholas Ralph star as Season 2 of “All Creatures Great and Small on Masterpiece” begins Sunday on PBS (check local listings).

As it did the first time, television’s take on “All Creatures Great and Small” has quite a bit of story left to tell.

Thus, PBS’ remake of author James Herriot’s autobiographical saga starts its second “Masterpiece” season Sunday, Jan. 9 (check local listings). The new episodes continue the mid-1930s saga of young veterinarian Herriot, played by Nicholas Ralph, as a job offer weighs heavily on him when he returns to work in England’s Yorkshire Dales after his holiday back home in Glasgow. That could lead to big decisions in turn for his boss, Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), and his love interest Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) – who called off her engagement to the wealthy Hugh Hulton (Matthew Lewis) over her deepening feelings for Herriot. Callum Woodhouse and Anna Madeley also star.

“It was always planned to be a returning series,” executive producer Colin Callender explains, “although I don’t think any of us expected to be received so very warmly in the U.K. and the U.S. in the way we were. The timing of it coming out in the middle of COVID helped, I think (in terms of the drama’s gentle approach, and viewers being at home to watch). The cast had to work through the whole COVID protocols and all that; it was not without its challenges, but they did an extraordinary job.”

The first season of “All Creatures Great and Small” marked stage actor Ralph’s first film work, and while he recalls having a case of “healthy nerves” when filming began, he notes that he “really did feel at home on that first day. I was lucky as well because the first day was with Sam (West), and he didn’t really leave my side and was there to answer any question. And we had a lot of fun with the scenes. They were very hard, but it was a great introduction, and you just kicked on from there.”

Though a prominent character is still present in “All Creatures Great and Small,” the esteemed performer who played the part isn’t. Dame Diana Rigg died before production on Season 2 began, so the part of eccentric Herriot client Mrs. Pumphrey is assumed by Patricia Hodge.

“It was a tragic loss,” Callender says of Rigg. “We all adored working with her, but we wanted to find an actress who would make Mrs. Pumphrey her own and not try to replicate what had come before. I think much in the way that Sam has turned Siegfried into his own – and Robert Hardy (who had the part in the first TV version) sits there in the background – you will find that Patricia Hodge embodies Mrs. Pumphrey in the most wonderful way.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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