‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Returns With Even More Creatures

RIPON, England — Samuel West was limping.

“A cow stood on my foot,” he said. “Again!”

Errant hooves are among the occupational hazards on the set of “All Creatures Great and Small,” the pastoral series that unfolds in 1930s Yorkshire. But on an intermittently sunny day here in late June, they presented a particular problem for West, who plays the veterinary surgeon Siegfried Farnon and was preparing to shoot a cricket sequence.

He gazed at the verdant pitch, the extras miming with bats and ball as the crew set up the shot. “I am not sure how convincing I am going to be in this scene,” he said.

Then West perked up. “Here comes the real star of the show,” he said excitedly. Patricia Hodge, who plays the wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey (taking over from Diana Rigg, who died in September), arrived bearing Derek, an extravagantly fluffy Pekingese known as Tricki Woo in the show.

“I’m going to run my lines with Derek,” said Callum Woodhouse, who plays Siegfried’s younger brother, Tristan. Hodge replied: “He is very busy, darling.”

The cricket match, set in the fictional Yorkshire village of Darrowby, takes place late in the seven-part second season, which debuts Sunday on “Masterpiece” on PBS. (In Britain, it aired in September on Channel 5.)

Like much of this gentle show, the contest is a frame for a series of small but important moments for the principal characters: a first kiss, a rapprochement between brothers, a gesture of kindness toward a rival. And as in the first season of “All Creatures,” a cheerful, optimistic tone prevails despite the distant rumblings of war. (It is now 1938 in the story.)

When the first season aired in Britain in September 2020, that tone proved just right for a pandemic-stressed nation. “All Creatures,” which featured mostly little-known actors, a lot of large animals and gorgeous vistas of remote, snowy countryside, drew over four million viewers per episode and was Channel 5’s highest-rated show since 2016.

When it arrived in the United States in January, days after the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill, the response was similar. “Suddenly there was nothing I wanted to watch more than this gentle show, with its low-stakes plotting, lush scenery, adorable animals and ensemble of fundamentally nice people,” Alan Sepinwall wrote in a representative review in Rolling Stone.

Season 2 arrives during yet another coronavirus spike and amid similarly profound political division. But will it get the same grateful reaction now that we are no longer in lockdown and are (perhaps) more accustomed to the vicissitudes of pandemic life?

“I think the response will be even stronger this time because no one, a year ago, expected that we would still be dealing with this in such a brutal way,” said Colin Callender, whose company, Playground, produced the series. “It will once again be an enormous escape from the trials and tribulations we are dealing with every day.”

The British response to Season 2 suggests Callender is correct. “A balm for the soul,” Anita Singh wrote in The Telegraph. “Its winning formula looks even more charming,” Stuart Heritage wrote in The Guardian.

The show is based on the best-selling books by James Herriot (whose real name was James Alfred Wight), who moved from Scotland to the Yorkshire Dales in 1937 to work in a rural veterinary practice. His placid, charming stories recount, with wry humor and perception, the triumphs and disappointments of daily life in tiny villages and on small farms. By the time Wight died in 1995, his seven books had sold over 60 million copies and inspired a hit television adaptation and two movies.

Ben Vanstone, the lead writer on “All Creatures,” said that he had tried to capture the “real heart and warmth and humanity” of Herriot’s writing. The new season retains the unhurried pace of the first, in which the young James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) comes from Glasgow to join Siegfried Farnon’s veterinary practice. He lives and works in the older vet’s home, called Skeldale House, along with Tristan and the housekeeper, Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley). And early on, James falls for Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton), a farmer’s daughter who is inconveniently engaged to an eligible landowner (played by Matthew Lewis).

“Season 2 is about the next step in James’s life,” Vanstone said in a video interview. “He has to make a choice about where he wants to be; it’s not just a love story between Helen and James, but between James and the Yorkshire Dales.”

In a recent telephone interview, Ralph, a Scot in real life, said the new season finds James “growing into himself, and much more assertive about moving the practice forward with the times.” Like his character, he added, he now felt much more confident about the job.

“Season 2 has a lot more animals, and I loved having to do the more complex procedures,” he said, citing a scene in which James assists at the difficult birth of a foal, and another in which he has to put a nose-ring on a bull. “Scary, but luckily James is a bit nervous, too,” he said.

The new season also follows Siegfried, who has been a surrogate father to Tristan after their father’s death, as he tries to change his often-disapproving attitude toward the younger man.

“Siegfried would like to think of himself as the patriarch, but there is a natural diminishing of his authority as James and Tristan begin to prove themselves,” West said in a follow-up telephone interview. “In my own life, I have come to realize that parenting is gardening not carpentry — you have to let people grow into themselves, not try to shape them as you wish. Siegfried has to learn that Tristan is his own man.”

As the upbeat Tristan, Woodhouse also got more time with the animals, citing as his highlight “an amazing world-class acting budgie who knew how to play dead.” There was also a memorable cow-birthing scene.

Animal protection regulations allowed the cow to be on the ground for only five minutes, he explained, as the director shot as many takes as possible within that time. “One take in, the cow sprayed urine all over my neck and I just had to keep going,” he said.

Vanstone said Helen, who called off her wedding at the 11th hour in the Season 1 finale, is a primary focus of the new episodes. “Helen has to work out what she wants,” he said, and she “needs time and space for herself.”

Shenton, who plays Helen, noted that in the books, the women are seen only from James’s perspective. “Helen has much more agency here,” she said.

“I love the way the women are so multifaceted,” she added. “Never mind Helen — I am extremely invested in Mrs. Hall’s journey!”

The contained housekeeper, who quietly rules the roost at Skeldale House, is a minor figure in the Herriot books but an important presence in the series, with a somewhat mysterious past life.

“This season, she meets a nice man in the village who is her generation and went through World War I,” Madeley said. “They are the grown-ups who suffered losses and trauma, but I think she is almost ready for a fresh adventure.”

It is Mrs. Hall and her new friend, Gerald, who talk about the rumblings of war and listen to the radio as the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, attempts to reassure the public about Hitler’s intentions.

“You have to remember what the characters know and don’t know,” Madeley said. “They feel they can be optimistic.”

At the cricket match — during which West acquitted his bowling duties honorably, despite his own bad hoof — thoughts of war were clearly far from the characters’ preoccupations as they batted, drank tea and chattered.

“Our lives today feel swept up by enormous forces — the pandemic, politics, governments,” West said in the later interview. “But in this world, the frame is tight and the issues feel tangible, which I think people really like.”

“Will a cow miscarry?” he continued. “That’s enough drama for us.”

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