Rachel Shenton reveals what it was like behind the scenes of All Creatures Great and Small

Rachel Shenton posing on a horse

Actress Rachel is still shocked after winning her Oscar (Image: Chris Overton)

Put simply, winning an Oscar is what dreams are made of. So, when former Hollyoaks star and White Gold actress Rachel Shenton’s film The Silent Child won Best Live Action Short in 2018, it’s fair to say her world stopped spinning. When we catch up with Rachel, it’s obvious that the accolade is still something she can’t quite get her head around. “It’s such a surreal thing and I honestly can’t describe how it feels.” She fumbles happily around the topic with gratitude and humility as she recalls how much the project meant to her. 

Rachel poses at a launch party

Rachel starred as Mitzeee Minniver in the hit soap Hollyoaks (Image: Mike Marsland/WireImage)

“I’m most proud of the conversations it evoked. Putting deafness on one of the biggest stages in the world sparked a national dialogue around the topic and that’s what I’m most grateful for.” 

Rachel made a lasting impression at the 2018 Academy Awards when she signed her acceptance speech. She learnt British Sign Language after her father, who was deaf for the last 18 months of his life due to chemotherapy, passed away.

“It means a lot and I’m never going to stop being thankful.” With her feet firmly on the ground and humble roots to keep her steady, the star insists the dizzying success hasn’t changed her. “I feel largely the same,” she says. 

“I’m pleased with the achievements but I’m also all right with the failure. Because people only see the highlights, it’s easy to forget that this industry is predominantly knockbacks. You’ve got to find peace in the setbacks in order to keep pushing forward.” 

And push forward she has. Since playing Mitzeee Minniver in Hollyoaks she flew across the pond to LA to star in Switched At Birth and back to the UK for prime-time comedy White Gold. Were these huge gigs always on the cards? 

Rachel with her Academy Award in Hollywood

Rachel and writer Chris Overton won an Academy Award for their short film The Silent Child (Image: WireImage)

“It was always my plan to leave after a couple of years on Hollyoaks,” explains Rachel. “That being said, I never expected half of what’s happened since. I come from a working-class background and grew up in Stoke-on-Trent where wanting to become an actress was quite a rare thing.”

“Starting out was tough. I didn’t have people to call for advice so it took a lot of tenacity to find a way through. I just feel very fortunate with the roles I’ve had and the diversity of them. It’s a privilege to have the luxury to be able to work on such different projects.” 

When we try to insist it’s her talent and versatility that’s got her this far she jokes that it’s her agent who deserves the credit.
“I find it hard to see myself like that sometimes – you don’t always get to view yourself from someone else’s perspective,
so it means a lot when anyone recognises your talent.” 

We’re pleased to report that Rachel’s success shows no signs of easing. The adaptable actress is turning her hand to period drama in Channel 5’s reimagining of the much-loved classic All Creatures Great And Small

As soon as you meet Rachel’s character, Helen, you get a pretty clear idea of what she’s all about. Knee-deep in muck and with the confidence to wrangle a two-ton bull (played by a stunning beast called Clive), it’s obvious she’s a lass in love with the land. 

“That was actually the first scene that I read and Helen’s character just jumped off the page. I fell in love with her assertiveness and was super-interested in playing her from that point on,” recalls Rachel. 

“Strong women tend to be few and far between in period dramas. All Creatures Great And Small is set in 1937 so Helen, with all her practicality and hands-on attitude, really is a go-getter.” 

On first viewing, anyone can see that no stone has been left unturned when it comes to production. The details are meticulously thought out, even down to the costume design, in order to transport anyone watching back in time. 

“The designer had such a keen eye and knew that Helen was one of the first women in her village to wear trousers. That’s a big deal in 1937. All of her fashion is about practicality and plays into the hands-on lifestyle she leads,” Rachel explains. 

That said, with a father and little sister to look after, Helen’s life is a juggling act to say the least. “Helen spins plates and manages to do it all with a smile on her face,” says Rachel. 

“Her mum passed away when she was younger, so she’s stepped up domestically, while still getting out there to drive the tractors. But none of it is a burden. She loves the farm and her family and relishes her place in the world.” 

So what can viewers expect from her as the story unfolds? 

Rachel as Helen in All Creatures Great and Small

Rachel plays Helen in All Creatures Great and Small (Image: Steve Granitz/WireImage)

“Helen is tough. She does what’s right and not what’s easy,” Rachel reveals. “That’s difficult for anyone, let alone a woman in the 1930s. She plays a much more central role in this version of the show than she did in the 70s adaptation and even the books. So does the other female character, Mrs Hall. That was a big part of showing this story through a modern lens for today’s audience.”

“There’s a wholesome truthfulness about the stories, the place and the lives of the people who lived there. I think everyone who worked on the show just hopes we’ve done it justice.” 

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Yorkshire Dales, Rachel and the rest of the cast managed to enjoy a good dose of the wild outdoors before lockdown struck. “We filmed through the autumn into early January, so it was pretty close to the wire,” she recalls. 

The experience is one she treasures. “I’d be on set surrounded by these beautiful animals and miles and miles of undulating countryside feeling like nobody was watching me and nothing mattered. It was a great privilege to spend time shooting there.” 

The cast of All Creatures Great and Small

The cast of All Creatures Great and Small (Image: ViacomCBS/Todd Antony)

Speaking of animals, since the show details the wholesome journeys of a junior vet’s first steps into the working world, Rachel had the chance to get up close and personal with many a farmyard favourite. Clive the two-ton bull for instance, who we met in the first episode, seemed totally under her spell. 

“I was terrified initially,” laughs Rachel. Ever the professional however, the actress insists there was no room for fear. “I had to dig deep to make sure it read as really natural and authentic. It’s where Helen grew up and where she felt most comfortable so that had to come across.” 

Animals, community spirit and brilliant characters trying to do what’s right – sounds like it’s what we all need after the roller coaster that is 2020. 

“It certainly feels like the right moment. Times were tough in the 30s – money and resources were scarce and it was that sense of togetherness which really helped people through the scrapes, so I feel like it’s incredibly relevant now.” 

Rachel is in All Creatures Great And Small on Channel 5 at 9pm on Tuesdays. 

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