“All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS: That Mrs. Hall/Edward Episode

Anna Madeley details the patience, precision and empathy that went into bringing about a fateful meeting that was seasons in the making.

(Editor’s note: Included in the following spoilers for “All Creatures Great and Small” Season 3 Episode 5, “Edward”.)

For almost three seasons, Mrs. Hall was the emotional foundation of “All Creatures Great and Small.” Anna Madeley portrayed her as a shoulder to cry on, reliable friends of the wind in the sails, and a sympathetic audience in good times and bad. In the show’s season 3 episode 5, available now on PBS, “All Creatures Great and Small” gave Mrs. Hall her own moment in the spotlight.

In “Edward,” Mrs. Hall finally gets a chance to meet her estranged son. The now young man, Edward (Conor Deane), is almost a different person than the toddler he last saw. As Edward faces imminent deployment in the early days of World War II, he takes the opportunity to meet his mother for a brief afternoon at a train station. If that meeting looked like two people who didn’t know each other figuring out how to talk in real time, that’s because it was in real life.

“Andy Hay separated us until we started filming, just to make the lack of familiarity feel like we had spent time apart. The director hasn’t asked me that yet. My instinct as an actor was to meet Conor for a beer, have a chat and get to know him a little bit,” Madeley told IndieWire. “Ma’am. Hall knows your little boy. But there’s this idea that he’s grown up and doesn’t know what he’s really been like for the last few years. So that distance has been really helpful. Conor is really nice and easy to get to know, so that’s an extra barrier and it gave us a little tension while working.”

When Mrs. Hall and Edward finally meet face to face, it is in a busy corridor near the platform. Compared to Darrowby’s relaxed, rural pace and a Skeldale house that can’t hold many people, this is one of the rare All Creatures Great and Small series that has a big crowd. That foot traffic around the main action was another instance of real life that added to the emotion of the scene.

“This is a world in which many people have said goodbye. The uncertainty of what would happen, how often you would see each other, and whether you would see each other again was all around us. We had to find the space to talk,” Madeley said. “I think it was really helpful for the characters to have buzz around them. It got them through that awkward first moment. They don’t discuss the usefulness of a cup of tea and a biscuit and “Where should we sit?” and all the things that will get you through the initial meeting. It was quite organic, in a way. It seemed very natural, and that’s how a meeting took place.”

For all its activity, the bustling tunnel is Mrs. Hall’s showcase episode of “Edward,” because it also gives Madeley the freedom to cover a lot without speaking. You almost learn more about her nerves and her reaction to uncertainty by watching her try to fill the time before Edward arrives. Waiting and sadness mingle in these lonely moments, especially when the benches in the waiting room become crowded and empty except for him.

“At every stage, we talked about when his patience would run out. When do you decide to look at the clock? When do you decide to have a cup of tea? We have all these things marked out. So in a way, the psychology was very clear to us while we were working on it,” Madeley said. “Sometimes you can rely heavily on the text to provide anchor points. Even in the scenes with Edward, where there is a lot of text, there are also a lot of unsaid things. How they sit, where the bag falls, and the crumbly pasta boxes are all part of that storytelling.”

Aside from the sequences of Mrs. Hall waiting to meet Edward, there’s a general low-key feel to this episode that continues when the two finally meet. The two share a painful history, especially when it comes to the actions of Edward’s father, a man who has now virtually disappeared from both of their lives. It’s not stated in the episode, but Madeley said that the episode’s writer, Karim Khan, was able to convey a lot with the minimal details that Mrs. Hall and Edward allow themselves.

MASTERPIECE "All small and large creatures" Season 3 Sunday, January 8 - February 19, 2023 Episode One -

“All creatures great and small”

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“Karim really understood his voice and presented the character in detail. When something is so well written, sometimes you don’t need to talk because the writer did it. You instinctively lift the page and you can. It’s not always helpful to talk through everything,” Madeley said. “It leaves room for the audience’s imagination to play. We have what you need to know. I thought it was really, really smart that you didn’t describe something or elaborate on something. You understand what Edward had to say and that he didn’t necessarily get it right, but he tried.”

“People who know something very painful very often talk about it and not about it,” said series creator and showrunner Ben Vanstone. “And while we know what our facts are, we trust people to get the subtext and imagine what happened and not need it to be explained. There are details of this, and not everyone may think it fully. But this does not count. I think the emotion of the moment is the most important.”

The messiness of their time together extends to Edward’s awkward departure. Conversations meandering on the walkways lead to a devastating spin on the platform, goodbye. Delivering (or deliberately failing to deliver) the box of cookies was just one of the logistical challenges of filming Edward’s farewell, especially as half of the station itself was still in regular use.

“The train station is amazing. It’s quite funny: on one side are the old steam trains. And then on the next track every modern passenger gets off and on, commutes. So it was quite a strange mix that day,” Madeley said. “It was a huge steam train that could not be stopped quickly. The shortbread falling at the right time, the anxiety around them, you can build that into what you do. The time limit added urgency. Andy really tries to shoot as many as he can in sequence and it was great that he was able to do that. The closing scenes with the train, if we had to do that first, it would have been very difficult.”

Thematically, wanting a different outcome and keeping hope alive is what runs through Season 3 of “All Creatures Great and Small.” As much as the war gives the characters and the show a reason for Mrs. Hall and Edward to finally reunite, there’s the pull of many other people back to Darrowby wondering if it could somehow be avoided. As the season enters the home stretch, the tension between the inevitable history and those figuring out their place sets the stage for where things could end.

“You’re always trying to find fun and love and joy in the show, but the events certainly underpin everything in a way that’s inevitably melancholic. For the audience, we know where it will end. So we’re always trying to give our characters some hope because they don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Vanstone said. “He makes sure the characters don’t get ahead of the story. In some ways, that makes it even more tragic. As a viewer, you watch them talk about, “Maybe it’s not going to happen. Maybe everything will be fine, we can stay here. But we all know the dramatic irony of it coming to them. There is no escape from it.”

“All Creatures Great and Small” airs Sunday nights on most PBS stations at 9 p.m. The series can also be streamed on the PBS app and the PBS Masterpiece Prime Video channel.

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