Call the Midwife, Series One (2012) TV Show Review
Anything based on a memoir or a “true story” is usually something worth paying attention to. I had higher expectations for Call the Midwife than even I realized, some of those expectations paid off. During its six-episode run, there were poignant delights but did they outweigh the disappointments?
Barely settled, she learns to adjust to midnight calls and the peculiar personality of Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt). She quickly finds confidants and friendship with her fellow co-workers, Trixie and Cynthia (Helen George, Bryony Hannah). The first delivery Jenny attends alone opens her eyes to the ignorance and depravity of her patients. Meanwhile newcomer Camilla “Chummy” Browne (Miranda Hart) shakes up the household with her cheerful outlook even as Jenny’s own past – one she is trying to forget, finds her again.
Making an effort to distance their name from Jane Austen-esque era period pieces is a small way the BBC seems to reinvent itself. It’s a decision that made me sad but in retrospect seems wise. In fact, it has produced a series of fabulous productions such as Call the Midwife. Based on the gritty memoir of Jennifer Worth and her experiences as a midwife, this series was born. (The talented Heidi Thomas – Upstairs, Downstairs, Ballet Shoes – adapts this one.) To say that this production is for everyone isn’t honest, because truth is, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Where something like Ballet Shoes is a wonderful portrait of family bonds and finding one’s identity, Call the Midwife is a dark, gritty piece of realistic life in the 1950’s.
It takes more than one episode for the show to finds its stride. The premiere is “tense” and forgets to ease its audience into this world. Instead, we are immediately swept into the whirlwind of Jenny’s new life as she attends calls. Never is there invitation to “meet” her character or past. Even by the end, though our curiosity is piqued, we still know little about Jenny or any character. In the third hour, writers finally learn to pace things. By then, we do love each character. From Trixie’s flirty, fun-loving personality; to the stern nature of Sister Monica Jean; or the earnest suit of Jenny’s childhood friend, Jimmy, each of characters is fabulous. Included in that cast is the voice of British great, Vanessa Redgrave and Ben Caplan as a smitten constable.
Even in darkness, glimmers of good delight and surprise us in equal measures. Once I knew what to expect of the series, I become increasingly drawn into the stories. To see people live in such squander is jarring; but more startling is that they don’t want to better their lives. Jenny is an empathetic, quiet leading character, and Raines shoulders the responsibility well. But it’s Chummy who is the biggest surprise of all. She gets an adorable love story, which wraps up in the best possible way.
If potential viewers go into this knowing it’s not the usual British fare, you may surprise yourself in realizing how entertaining this can be. It has heart and seems to recognize its error to focus strictly on new life but also the tragedy at the last breath, and everything that happens in the chasm between in this thing called life.
(Parental concerns: Every episode has at least one scene of childbirth [episode one has two or three]; some more “graphic” than the others [including one visual, prolonged breech birth]. Various themes are dealt with including prostitution [a girl is seen half-dressed lying in bed demanding full payment, she also recounts her “first time”]. Implications reveal that a woman engaged in an affair with a married man, another woman suggests she is no longer a virgin leading up to her wedding. There’s a troubling case involving incest and out-of-wedlock children in addition to various childbirth complications. A demonstration on birth control involves the use of condemns.)