With all the shows that have come and gone from our TV screen, this has to be one of the warmest collaboration of stories there are. Heidi Thomas (Ballet Shoes, Cranford) consistently puts out material that rivals most of its competition. To the best of my ability, the following review is spoiler free.
Ushering in a new decade is something the young midwives of Nannatus House are ready to welcome whereas their elders don’t adjust the same. Before 1960 arrives, they have yet another Christmas program to put on with the youngsters in Poplar. With as many patients – if not more, than ever, there isn’t time for the midwives to enjoy much beyond their work. This means their patients always come first, which includes Patsy (Emerald Fennell) and Cynthia (Bryony Hannah) accompanying two young teenage expectant mothers to a group home. Upon their arrival, the girls discover the home is run by a drunken matron who doesn’t seem to give concern about the care of the girls in her charge. This temporarily reassigns Chummy (Miranda Hart) as the nurse in charge until a permanent replacement can be found.
Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) is suffering some health setbacks that worsen as she brushes the concerns aside. Even Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) and her nurturing coercing to see a doctor fall on deaf ears; Sister Evangeline remains resolute in her decision. Then there is Shelagh (Laura Main) and Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann). The Turner’s are settling in as a new family nicely with their two children – Timothy is growing up into a talented young man and baby Angela is flourishing in her new home. Then there is Trixie (Helen George) suffering from some demons of her own and the surprise proposal that relates with that, and finally, the arrival of Barbara Gilbert (Charlotte Ritchie), a new midwife.
There is much to praise about this British series. Is it “right” for everyone? No. Is it always perfect? No. But I often find the genuine wholeness of the guest stories and the way the returning characters are fleshed out makes all the bad worth trudging through. Speaking of those flaws, let’s get that over with. There are a few story threads that won’t be to everyone’s liking this season, though with exception to one episode, I was relatively surprised at how classy (the storytelling of) each of these were handled. Then there are all of the goodbyes. Some fans who treasure all of the characters as a group might feel cheated.
Believe it or not, I think Jenny’s (played by Jessica Raine) presence is missed more than I expect. (But given some of the opportunities this opens for other characters – which we’ll talk about later, I don’t mind.) Considering it’s her narration that keeps the stories progressing, it does feel somewhat off balance that her character is no longer here. Then there’s Chummy’s greatly diminished presence and for a while Sister Evangeline. Fortunately for every possible downturn, this shift opens doors for new characters arcs, which in turn captures a good and special kind of direction change.
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Keeping with the characters, one of the best characters this season is Trixie’s progression. If ever you thought she was nothing but a ditzy blonde, this season will make you rethink that. I always “understood” her to be much more than the persona she put on for the world. Her world is equal parts happiness, then we crushingly watch as it crashes and burn. The finale in particular is heart wrenching. Helen’s performance in the latter part of the season is spot on brilliant, and it’s particularly moving that it’s Cynthia who “finds” Trixie. Beyond that, I adore Fred, Sister Julienne, Sister Monica Joan, the Turners, newcomer Barbara… and oh, everyone! Same as with each season prior, the settings and costumes are terrific. I was leery about seeing this season cross into a new decade, but there are not many changes from that angle.
Certainly there are some stories that affect the viewer more than others. However I do find most of them to be heart-tugging, bittersweet and full of joy. There’s stories of mothers bonding over a very difficult choice regarding their daughters; teens having to choose how their babies be raised; disease; Cynthia considering (and ultimately making) a choice that would change her life; Dr. Turner’s crisis; and on the list goes. These stories again captivated me. They’re about so much more than you think. You will find a lot of beauty in the storytelling, stories that go deeper than most. To tell you the truth, even after all I did say, there is copious amounts more I could write about. But let’s not.
Given that there’s already fifth year renewal, I’m thrilled to discover what else is on the horizon for these characters. Some of it might turn out to be emotionally wrecking, but I suspect many have brighter futures ahead.
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Content: on par with prior seasons there is at least one birth in every episode which may or may not bother some sensitive viewers. Unmarried couples have children, some minor suggestive dialogue works into the script. There is some social drinking [and a storyline that deals with alcoholism]; suicide is touched on in a pair of episodes [one man even locks himself in a car]. Homosexuality also plays a role in the stories [there’s a same-sex kiss in episode three] including one relationship that plays throughout the season. The episodes shift between a TVPG and TV14 rating.