All Creatures Great and Small’s Stars on the James & Helen Romance
Where do things stand between All Creatures Great and Small‘s James Herriot and Helen Alderson at the end of Season 1? Nicholas Ralph and Rachel Shenton weigh in on the dramatic events of the season finale and their characters’ potential romance.
Nicholas Ralph on Helen, Hugh, the finale & the future
MASTERPIECE: Helen often helps James by either inspiring him or sharing her perspective, which he clearly respects a lot. What is it in Helen that draws James to her, that he can’t find elsewhere or in himself?
NICHOLAS RALPH: I think she epitomizes everything that James loves about the Dales, and that he falls in love with the Dales and he falls in love with Helen, as well. One of the greatest things about Helen is that she challenges James in a way that he needs at times, pointing him in the right direction without it being so blatant. Because he needs that little push sometimes, the extra courage or confidence, and she totally gives him that.
MASTERPIECE: You want to dislike Hugh but he’s actually a pretty good guy. What do you think about him and that relationship?
NICHOLAS RALPH: He’s not a bad guy at all, and that was one thing, I think, that they wanted to make sure of at the start as well, that he wasn’t a “panto villain.” He wasn’t scheming in the background or anything; it’s just that the way he’s been brought up, his mentality towards money and how it can be used, is perhaps not the best. But he’s not a bad guy at all, and I don’t think James has any hard feelings towards him. You see that in the Christmas special (Episode 7) as well, when he has a great opportunity to tell Helen how he feels, but it’s the day before her wedding and she’s marrying Hugh. James has this constant dilemma of heart and mind, with this thing that he feels compelled to say, but at the same time, his head’s telling him not to. So I think there’s a respect there, between James and Hugh.
MASTERPIECE: Up in the cottage, he wants to tell Helen he loves her, but doesn’t, and later, he still wants to tell her, when he’s sitting next to her in the church. He’s so in love with her, but in that moment, he’s exactly what she needs him to be: a friend.
NICHOLAS RALPH: Yeah, absolutely. He didn’t use that moment for his own agenda. And it was beautiful—the writing, the way it was shot, and how it was done—it was just wonderful. We were just so lucky. When we were reading it, Rach and I were just so excited to do it. But he doesn’t use the moment to tell her how he feels, nor does he use it as a way of battering Hugh in any way by saying, “You made the right decision anyway, because he’s not right for you,” or whatever that might be.
In that scene in the church, when James comes back and finds Helen there after just calling off the wedding, I had to do everything in my power not to start crying during the scene, during every take, because I thought it was just utterly beautiful, the way Rach played it. But because it wouldn’t be right for James in that moment, if he starts shedding tears, it took a lot of me to not cry. And that was all just Rach, absolutely crushing it.
MASTERPIECE: Do you think we’re in for a slow burn with these two?
NICHOLAS RALPH: Yeah, I think it has to be. I mean, you’ve been given the circumstances—she’s just about to get married and she bailed out on her wedding on the day, on the morning, or even at the church. So it’s going to take some time—there’s no way Helen would want anything other than that. I think James probably gives her a bit of space, because it would be a really difficult time for Helen, and then take it from there. I think it will be a slow burn, definitely.
Rachel Shenton on the wedding that wasn't & what might be ahead
MASTERPIECE: Did Helen call off her marriage because she discovered that she had feelings for James? Or was it witnessing Bert and Anne’s marriage and realizing that she wants a marriage like theirs, but that she wouldn’t find it with Hugh? We don’t know if one of those two things, or maybe both, led to her actions…
RACHEL SHENTON: I think you’re absolutely right! The director Andy Hay and I, we’d have chats about what we wanted to do with this and where her head was at. I didn’t want it to be really cut-and-dried and finite, that X and Y happens, so it equals Z. I didn’t want it to be like that because I don’t think it ever is like that when you’re talking about feelings. There’s always so much nuance and gray area that you don’t quite knowing or can’t figure out. So ultimately, I wanted it to feel like maybe Helen doesn’t even know, but she knows that it’s not right to go through with it, and at that point, that’s all she can say and do.
I think if you asked her to write down and really explain her feelings, I don’t know if she could articulate it then, either. But she trusts herself enough to know that something’s just off. You know when you’re feeling something, you’re like, I’m not sure of what this is… and then you see something like Bert and Anne, you feel like, ah, that’s a sign. That’s adding to it, that’s another pressure. And then her dad says [not to marry Hugh for him; they’ll be alright if she doesn’t] and it’s like, Okay, my dad’s sensing something—more than what he says, it’s the acknowledgment that he knows that she’s not happy, even though she’s never said anything. So I think it’s just all of those things together make her like, “Yeah, okay. I have to trust this and sit with this, and even though this is going to be difficult, this is what I have to do, and I’ll figure the rest out afterwards.”
MASTERPIECE: Was that conversation in the car with her father instrumental in her decision? What do you think he was sensing in her that led him to say it?
RACHEL SHENTON: Even though Helen’s dad has witnessed James and Helen’s interactions on only a couple of occasions, I think that as a parent, he knows her very well, and that’s probably enough for him to see. I also think that deciding to take off with James the night before her wedding probably says all that it needs to say, really, to Richard. So I think that was just him saying, “I know where your head’s at, and don’t do anything for me. I understand, I know, and it’s okay.” I think that does influence Helen, because that was a consideration when marrying Hugh anyway.
Helen’s family isn’t wealthy. Hugh owns most of Darrowby. He’s very wealthy and he owns the farm that she lives on with her dad and her sister. She knows that financially, she’d be okay if she married him, and then if secretarial college was ever something that she wanted to pursue further, she probably could with him. And indeed, if Jenny, her younger sister, wanted to pursue something—because obviously, she’s taken on this maternal role for Jenny, and Jenny’s life is really important to Helen—I think she knows all that would be easier. So Helen knows her life would be easier if she married Hugh. But like I said before, she does what’s right, and not what’s easy. And I think that whatever it is with James—and maybe she hasn’t fully figured it out yet—she instinctively knows that something isn’t quite right and that you shouldn’t get married under those circumstances. So she obviously makes a brave decision. And of course, when it’s anything to do with your heart and your true feelings, then all kinds of logic and rationale just have to be parked while you make those difficult decisions. And that’s what she did. I really don’t think she knows in that moment, in that church, on that day. I don’t think she has all the answers.
MASTERPIECE: She walks down the aisle out of the church hand in hand not with Hugh, but with James. Because they’re in this small community, and because of who Helen is as a person, are we in for a slow burn with these two?
RACHEL SHENTON: Well, I know that Helen isn’t the kind of girl that will just jump feet-first into something now, and I think she needs to figure it out. She’s been so busy being a parent to a young girl and running and managing the farm, and making sure that everybody’s okay, that actually this is probably the first time that she’s gone, “What is it that I want, and who am I away from all that?” As women, I think, that’s something that we can all relate to at times—you get so caught up doing and being busy that actually, our needs, our desires, sometimes take a backseat. So with that relationship, I feel that it might be a while before we see anything.