As a fan of the autobiographical books by English Yorkshire vet James Herriot, I had high hopes for the 2021 PBS series. Would it deliver the charm, warmth, and humor of the books? Yes! All Creatures Great and Small has all the coziness of a steaming pot of tea with a plate of scones. But sweet though it may be, the series has a solid underpinning of reality and an earthiness that comes from Herriot caring for animals, many of whom are working farm animals rather than pets. The series opens as young veterinary school graduate Herriot (a winsome and wide-eyed Nicholas Ralph) is shocked to find out he has his first placement as an assistant to tempestuous country vet Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) in the Yorkshire Dales. As he tries to secure his job (his boss is famous for firing assistants), Herriot treats cows and horses and dogs and ferrets, all the while coming to realize that a vet must also deal with animal owners in equal measure. Set in a 1930s village amid vividly green hills, the series, with 7 episodes so far, will instantly snag animal lovers and those who can’t get enough of English period pieces. Rated 10+, this series is about families, chosen and otherwise, the value of hard work and integrity, and shines with a love of animals. A beautifully crafted, comforting gem. (Amazon Prime)
The Long Song, about the last days of slavery in British-ruled Jamaica, offers some much-needed diverse representation in a genre usually devoid of it. This 3-part miniseries is both lush and victorious and horrific and eye-opening. It doesn’t sugarcoat British colonial rule or the atrocities committed to enslaved people, but it also doesn’t reduce the slaves themselves to one-dimensional, heroic caricatures. With a stellar cast. The Long Song unfolds at a sugar plantation in Jamaica, where the iron-willed July (Tamara Lawrance) finds ways to daily subvert the authority of her ridiculous mistress. This “lady” had spotted July on the side of the road when she was a child, plucked her from her mother’s side, and took her home like a pet. Lawrance is riveting as July, who, as the actress said in an interview, “is flawed, July is manipulative, July is a survivor, and July is rebellious … July is always this indomitable spirit.” But it is Robert Goodwin (Jack Lowden) as the new overseer who is the most ambiguous and complex. At first, he seems to be a positive addition, brimming with passion to improve the lives of the plantation workers. But as the series continues, viewers see a dark side emerge. It is a blistering portrait of a colonizer with many layers. Rated 14+, The Long Song teaches a brutal history as it compels the viewer to reckon with past atrocities and consider present adaptations of the same racism. (Amazon Prime)
If you like swoony, sweeping British period dramas with a dose of history, you will relish Poldark, the 43-episode BBC drama about a fervid soldier returning to England after fighting in the American War of Independence. Set in 1780s Cornwall (with stunning views of Cornish cliffs and seashore), the series centers on the charismatic Captain Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner), who returns from war to find out he has been presumed dead, his father is dead, his house is in shambles, and his betrothed is engaged to his cousin. We watch him pick up the pieces of his life with courage and principle, falling in love, fighting his enemies, and battling for people who are oppressed and marginalized. Though Turner is magnetic as the show lead, it was the myriad side characters who captivated me. Newly rich and ennobled George Warleggan (Jack Farthing) proved to be a worthy foe for the entire series, made more fascinating because he longed for and had the capacity to love. Scullery maid Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) rose quickly from her lowly station and became a formidable and compassionate leader in her community. For viewers of faith, young preacher Sam Carne (Tom York) endears with his sincere and pure faith and zeal for evangelism. Rated 18+, the series is mostly tame but a few episodes are quite sensual and not suitable for families. (Amazon Prime)
About the Author
Lorilee Craker, a native of Winnipeg, Man., lives in Grand Rapids, Mich. The author of 15 books, she is the Mixed Media editor of The Banner. Find her on Instagram @thebooksellersdaughter or on her podcast Eat Like a Heroine.