27 November 2012

Spotlight on Holiday Classics: "Merry Gentlemen"

Year: 1978
Network: BBC
Stars: Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Peter Davison, Carol Drinkwater

The BBC's well-loved adaptation of James Herriot's hit bestseller about his 1930s veterinary days, All Creatures Great and Small, was into its second season when this warm and loving little Christmas story was presented. Each episode usually presented at least three of Herriot's literary stories combined in a cohesive tale—and not necessarily taking place when Herriot set them. The three stories used in this episode, for instance, did not take place at Christmas (and a later episode featured a story that was set at Christmas in print, but not on television) and were slightly changed to fit the Christmas theme. In the first subplot, the vets try to save a donkey foal, the pet of a little gypsy girl, that has caught tetanus, and in the second, the pampered Pekinese dog "Tricki Woo" has come down with jaundice due to an inappropriate diet supplied by his doting owner, Mrs. Pumphrey.

Two humorous tales intertwining with the two animal dramas are Siegfried's tasting of Mrs. Hewison's Christmas cake and his efforts to keep brother Tristan from finding out what is kept in the long-locked dining room at Skeldale House, all connected by their efforts to have a "real Yorkshire Christmas with all the trimmings."

This episode just reeks nostalgia, from the Skeldale house set with its "homely" wallpapers and shabby furniture that so reminded me of some of my older relatives' homes, and an atmospheric scene with James and Tristan in the kitchen where the wind "wuthers" around the house along with an opening scene with carolers. Later the men of the household go out to the woods to gather holly and cut down a Christmas tree—not the shaved perfect trees of today, but a natural fir eventually decorated with the old-style Christmas bulbs, baubles, and tinsel. Robert Hardy is especially effective as the often manic Siegfried and James and Helen's romance always seems fresh and appealing. Donkeys, dogs, secret rooms and Christmas cake combine for a lovely Yuletide bauble of its own.

No comments: