Call the Midwife is another one of those rich and textured dramas that the BBC does so well. Much like its more sumptuous cousin Downton Abbey and the seemingly immortal Upstairs, Downstairs, Call the Midwife transports the viewer to a time and place both unknown and somehow familiar to its viewers.
Based on the best-selling memoirs of midwife Jennifer Worth and set in the 1950s post-World War II East End of London (one of the nastiest slums in a country still under wartime food rationing and with a housing shortage). The story follows newly qualified nurse midwife Jenny Lee and her fellow nurse midwives and the nuns at Nonnatus House, a convent hospital, primarily concerned with child birth and the care of newborns.
The cast is both stellar and spot-on in their performances. Vanessa Redgrave provided the voice over as the older Nurse Jenny. Jenny Agutter as the serene and understanding Sister Julianne, Pam Ferris as the plain-spoken and no-nonsense Sister Evangeline and Judy Parfitt as the eccentric and willful Sister Monica Joan, are all excellent. The stand outs are so far, Jessica Raine as the wide-eyed newcomer Jenny and Miranda Hart, better known for her comedy, as the awkward Camilla Fortescue Cholmondeley Browne (just call her “Chummy” for short).
The drama in Call the Midwife comes both from its time and place, but also the interactions of the characters with it and with each other. The look and feel of the show is both nostalgic and somehow unflinching at the same time. Girls go to dances and the police have time to sip tea, but the show also deals with some adult themes that were known to exist in the 50s, but few people discussed. Prostitution, venereal diseases, and unwanted pregnancies in the age before the birth control pill and safe abortions are faced up to and dealt with in a honest and forthright manner.
Also the show is not for the squeamish. In the course of the series so far viewers have seen lots of women screaming in pain (as only childbirth before the advent of epidurals could be painful), including a breach birth. Blood is thrown about at will and seems to land on everything. Also shown was a nasty case of syphilis and a truly horrifying back-alley abortion.
Broadcast on Public Broadcasting System (PBS) stations in America in a Sunday night timeslot, Call the Midwife is the perfect antidote for grown-up TV watchers to shallow melodramas and cartoon families.