Yorkshire, 1937, and newly graduated veterinarian James Herriott (Simon Ward) arrives for a job interview with Siegrfried Farnon (Anthony Hopkins), hoping to be able to look after the farm animals of the local countryside there. But Siegfried acts almost casually towards him, instead of offering him that interview he tells him he has a case to see and takes James along with him. It's a horse with a bad hoof, and James correctly diagnoses the problem and offers the solution, wondering when the interview will start, so it is with great surprise he learns he has the job already.
Here's a film that was almost completely eclipsed by its television version, as it was from James Herriott's semi-autobiographical books that the famous BBC series All Creatures Great and Small came from. It's safe to say nothing in the film incarnation had anything like the impact of that, not least because the opening title sequence on the small screen was one of the greatest scene setters in television history, so no matter what had followed that was sure to have been a hit with viewers: think of it, James and Siegfried driving through the Dales, sharing a joke, as the twinkling theme tune merrily played, it was peerless in that regard.
So when you watch this film, even if the TV show had escaped your notice, the sense of it being carried out competently but without the real nostalgic style of what succeeded it was very much to the fore, and if you could not imagine anyone but Christopher Timothy in the role of James then you were going to see this as nothing but a second place substitute, in spite of this getting there first. It was a production set in motion by Americans who saw this as, prophetically, ideal for television showings, though it played in cinemas throughout the world, including Britain, thus establishing there was a market for the books in other media, and leading to a sequel a couple of years later without Ward and Hopkins.
But for a story that many think of as twee and quaint, there wasn't half a tetchy tone to Herriott's adventures in this reading, as if the whole cast were about to erupt into volcanic arguments at the drop of a hat. Everyone here was in some state of bad temper at some point or other, some from beginning to end, so Siegfried loses it with his brother Tristan (Brian Stirner), Freddie Jones is a menacing farmer who James cannot prove has faked the death by lightning of one of his cows, and most notably our hero's love interest (Lisa Harrow) rubs him up the wrong way on their big date, leaving their relationship to be put on the back burner for much of the plot until they set aside their differences and we get something akin to a happy ending.
For most, it would be the attraction of seeing the rolling scenery and the animals which would hold the strongest appeal, and there was an abundance of both. Ward had the rites of passage of any actor playing a farm vet in that he had to stick his arm up the back end one of those creatures, once humorously in this case, and next more seriously, but mostly the beasts were there to coo over, even if the script did its best to present the situations with some degree of realism, so some animals died. Tricky-Woo didn't, however, the Pekinese seared into the memories of all who watched the TV programme, and here making a good show of himself as the pampered pet of one of the richer locals. In the main the period detail was neatly evoked, the cast did well enough even if the red mist was frequently threatening to descend on their characters, but this All Creatures Great and Small was always going to be an afterthought once the Beeb had their way. Music by Wilfred Josephs, though you'll be longing for the theme tune.