This week’s episode of All creatures big and small — the third episode of the third season, entitled “Siegfried Survives” — offers something rare for the series: flashbacks.
The show, adapted from the internationally bestselling memoir series by veterinary surgeon Alf Wight, who wrote under the pseudonym James Herriot, has so far been set squarely in the late 1930s in the farming community. Darrowby’s sleepy British people, a fictional corner of the Yorkshire Dales where 21st-century viewers can dig deep for an hour a week and let their troubles be replaced with gentle tales of animal care in countryside. The series focuses on veterinary surgeon James (Nicholas Ralph), who toils under the watchful eye of the recalcitrant Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), whom he tries to please – though not as much as Siegfried’s lecherous brother, Tristan (Callum Woodhouse), does.
All of these numbers are familiar to readers of Herriot’s books. But they first became a staple of the television scene in 1978, when the BBC premiered the first series adaptation of the series. All creatures big and small. Calling the new series a remake of the previous one would be inappropriate, as both have the freedom to adapt Herriot’s books. But in Siegfried’s perception of the trauma of war, the two series have notable echoes. Two iterations of the same man were beset by the same legitimacy world fatigue, a repetition that would have resonated as clearly four decades ago as it does today.
“Surviving Siegfried” takes viewers to Belgium in 1918, a schism in the series’ typical activities that highlights how the present World War I still lingers in the human consciousness. currently facing World War II. There’s a younger version of the often funny eccentric Siegfried—played by Andy Sellers in these segments, and now considered a serious captain in the Royal Armed Forces around the time of Armistice Day. — was assigned to take care of the major’s wounded horse.
“Physically, it will make a full recovery,” this younger version of Siegfried observes of the animal. But there’s another, perhaps even bigger, wound: “the hurt we can’t see.”
In the show’s current season, another fight emerges, casting a dark shadow over an earlier series that cast a comforting note on escapism. Jeeps overtake cars as Siegfried shuttles between Darrowby and distant farms; The previous section closes with his housekeeper, Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) watching a fire burn in the sky. Now, Siegfried has been called to care for another wounded horse – River, who will not be ridden – and though the coming atrocities have yet to reach these particular creatures, its ghosts Still dominating the season.
“Are you ok?” Tristan questioned the stubborn vet while driving him back to River. Siegfried himself has been knocked off his horse so many times that he can barely walk, let alone control a vehicle.
“That’s a damn stupid question!” Siegfried grabbed it. “Of course not! None of us are! Neither should we! The state of the damn world – something would be wrong with us if we were! The dialogue fits the character and story, but it can also strike a chord with today’s viewers. How many of us can really feel okay with the state of our own damn world? So gentle anti all creatures big and small must balance its status as a comforting tonic to a messy and painful 21st century and its awareness of the fact that the world has always been more complicated than any of us would have liked.
The world was no less complicated and painful 43 years ago this month, when the BBC premiered the third season of the original TV series. All creatures big and small. The season aired less than a year after Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister (the duration of the original series would match her 11 years in office within a year), amid a period of severe unrest in the UK. , a country still reeling from an unprecedented year of strikes, the culmination of which will be known as the Winter of Discontent.
That season’s fifth episode, titled “If Wishes Were Horses,” serves as a parallel to, if not the basis for, “Survival Siegfried.” Once again, we see Siegfried (here played by Robert Hardy) tending to a horse, though this time a hoof infection contrasts with River’s spiritual illness. Siegfried was in the process of dealing with the creature, and even left the campaign feeling dazed. “Summer morning in an English village,” he beamed. “There’s nothing like it.”
“Not if you have time to appreciate it,” James (Christopher Timothy) agrees.
But the happiness is quickly shattered by the news that two local boys will join the RAF on their own. “I think it’s their duty,” the boys’ father commented, but Siegfried was clearly shaken. “Politicians have failed,” he mutters as the boys leave to enlist. “Now it’s up to people like them… to pick up the pieces.”
“If Wishes Were Horses” aired in January 1980, just weeks after British steel workers quit their jobs for the first time in more than half a century. That strike will last 13 weeks, ending just days before the third season of All creatures big and small did, the world’s winter discontent once again made a strong contrast to a lighthearted series. The final season, which bids farewell to these characters for the eight years that have passed before the fourth season, ends with Siegfried and James also leaving for the army. “Nothing is certain anymore,” Siegfried whispers at the end of the episode.
The same can be said about the world where the third season of All creatures big and small premiered, as we enter the fourth year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a rising wave of global fascism normalizes at an astonishingly fast rate. surprised. The film premiered in September 2020, less than a year after the pandemic, and while it might be a bit convenient to suggest James Herriot and his comic entourage appear in these desperate times, this expansion to guide us towards something like hope… Well, if the horseshoe joint.
In Belgium, we are told, Siegfried was forced to oversee the mass slaughter of horses deemed worthless after they had finished carrying troops into battle. Now called on by his one-time commanding officer to do the same with River, a racehorse that doesn’t race (“Good for vain but dog food,” one viewer grumbled as Siegfried trying to tame the wild), Siegfried sets his foot down.
“Surely we don’t need to repeat the mistakes and cruelty of the past!” he begged this man whom he still calls Major. When the old man gruffly asked him how many times he was willing to be thrown, Siegfried answered firmly: “As many as.”
Siegfried mentions his determination to help River, but his determination is broader. When asked to break the horse, he told the major that it was his job, in fact, to put the animal back together. It’s the very task we all wake up to every day: the need to play the smallest role we can in re-assemble a world that feels like it’s falling apart so fast the pieces are falling apart. may crumble in your hand.
“We’ll have to face it, Siegfried,” James told his partner in the original series. “There’s really no other way.”
“Of course you are right,” agreed Siegfried. “Humans are the most adaptable species of all.” It is unclear whether Siegfried believed his own words. He looked like he was about to cry when he said that. But “Surviving Siegfried” ends with something closer to catharsis: River allows himself to be ridden. The major’s horse was saved.
In a flashback in the middle of “Siegfried Survives,” we learn that only one horse has returned from Belgium: the major’s personal steed. The writers chose to name the horse Orpheus, and their reasons seem clear. Like Siegfried himself, this being – so great yet so small – has entered hell. Now, his mission is to reappear without looking back.
All creatures big and small available to view on PBS Masterpiece.