Entertainment'All creatures great and small', a television refuge in...

‘All creatures great and small’, a television refuge in the English countryside

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All creatures great and small is a series against the current. Walk out of the daily bustle, away from pandemics and conspiracies. It distances itself from hypervitaminated thrillers in which plot twists follow one another, from treatises on anxiety, from anti-heroes angry with the world and from superheroes in disguise. It is the story of three veterinarians in the English countryside in the thirties of the last century. Among its ingredients, friendly stories, bucolic landscapes and kind characters. And animals. A retreat from the hustle and bustle and catastrophes that threaten everyday life.

This British production, between drama and comedy, was released just in time. It was the year 2020 and the great confinement had just ended. A series with open landscapes, lots of light and no villains (only animal diseases) was just what the millions of viewers who got hooked on this drama that adapted the novels written by James Alfred Wright, under the pseudonym James Herriot, needed. , based on his own experience as a rural veterinarian.

The best-selling books were transferred to film and television on several occasions, including a series on the BBC in the 1970s and 1990s. The plot follows the adventures of young James who, recently graduated, moves from Glasgow to the countryside to become a country veterinarian under the reclusive and somewhat eccentric Siegfried, reluctant to hire an assistant. At the same time, Tristan, Siegfried’s little brother and disastrous veterinary student, returns home.

The third season, which Filmin premieres tomorrow, Tuesday December 13, and which will arrive on Movistar Plus+ in the first quarter of 2023, is set in 1939, with the war threatening to alter the tranquility that is breathed in this particular paradise away from the madding crowd. noise. That world apart, but very real, in which the action of All creatures great and small takes place is what captivated Brian Percival, director of several of his chapters in each of his seasons.

Percival remembers the moment, in 2019, when he received the scripts: “The world seemed full of bad news. It was pre covid and every night the tv was talking about Brexit and depressing stuff. I thought it would be great to bring a ray of light into people’s lives. Everyone loves animals and there was the countryside, that idea of ​​escapism and entertainment, and the freedom, getting away from a world that wasn’t a great place.” The current series reshapes some elements of the original story to approach the viewer of the present. To do this, they gave more strength and presence to the female characters and a more progressive and modern mentality than in the original texts.

Shot in the Yorkshire Dales, in the north of England, its river valleys and hills are an essential element of the series. The use of drones allows directors to show the landscapes in all their splendor. “Many scenes take place while the vets are driving through the valleys,” the director explained in a video call interview in mid-October. “This allows the conversation and the narrative to move forward and, at the same time, take a breath and look at the landscapes that surround the characters.”

All Creatures Great and Small follows the path that other period dramas blazed before on British television. The Durrells, which narrates the adventures of a British family in Corfu also in the thirties, could be considered its spiritual predecessor by combining light stories, kind characters and beautiful natural landscapes. In addition, both are based on books in which their authors novelized their lives, in this case written by the naturalist Gerald Durrell. Even Downton Abbey, of which Brian Percival also directed several episodes, shares elements with them. “They are very different, although they do have some aspects of working-class characters in common. But they are about different things. Downton Abbey covers the class structure, among other things. All Creatures is more about the human experience and relationships with animals and other characters. It is closer to the human experience.”

In a television dominated by fast fiction consumption and instant gratification, producing a series whose action takes place at the pace of a flock of sheep does not seem like the most logical option. “It seems to me that television must be de-dramatized. Everything has to be bigger, bolder, more dangerous, putting the characters in situations that you can’t relate to,” says Percival. “Not everyone has encountered a murder around the corner, not all of us have encountered serial killers. Yet we see a lot of that on television. I wanted some escapism, and I think the audience did too. Especially when the confinement and the covid arrived, it seemed that we wanted television to give us a hug and comfort us ”.

The pacing of All Creatures Great and Small is leisurely. It is a refuge where its viewers can be more or less sure that no major shock will occur in the 45 minute episode. “Things happen, big changes, but everything happens at a slow pace. This rhythm is intentionally to help convey that feeling of calm and happiness”, explains the director. Even so, he notes the evolution of the characters throughout the three seasons. “But they are smooth changes, there are no dramatic twists. Deep down, most of us can relate more to those little changes, because that’s how life happens. Sometimes we go through big changes, but the day to day is like that, the experience of small changes”.

Alfred Hitchcock warned about the dangers of filming with children and animals. Percival, with this series, has achieved a master’s degree in the latter. “The key is patience,” he laughs. “There are a lot of things you have to be very careful about because sometimes those huge cows or bulls want to move somewhere and they don’t care if you’re in the way.” In the series they use prosthetic models for the moments in which the characters explore the animals. In the shots in which cows, horses or sheep appear, they continuously record with two cameras to make sure they capture the expressions of the animals that, although they do not occur at the right moment, can be placed where they see fit in editing.

Of course, there are dozens of anecdotes in those shoots. “Recently we were recording with a cow that didn’t want us to record it, she was bored and she decided to leave and she ran into two trainers, which she dragged on the ground,” she explains. Every time they record with a horse, they have to have a double nearby in case the first one doesn’t want to work that day. “And there’s a funny thing with cows: they always have to have a friend by their side, off camera, so they don’t feel alone. If they feel lonely, they make a lot of noise”, concludes Percival.

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