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Call The Midwife Christmas special (2012) - Review

Call The Midwife

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

AS CHRISTMAS specials go, Call the Midwife was refreshingly down-to-earth and not at all afraid to depict life as it really was in London’s East End a little over 60 years ago. And no, there was nothing remotely resembling EastEnders about it – thank goodness.

For the nuns and midwives of Nonnatus House, life went on very much as usual, with one woman giving birth in the communal toilet of a squalid tenement and a very young, unmarried girl delivering her own baby in an abandoned building.

Following the sexual revolution of the 1960s, it’s difficult to appreciate the shame of being an unmarried mother in 1950’s England. But for Lynette Duncan (Ami Metcalf) it was all too real. Hiding her pregnancy from her parents, she learned all she could of childbirth from some pamphlets obtained from the local ante-natal clinic.

Then, when her labour began, she headed for an abandoned building armed only with her mother’s scissors and some twine. Just imagine how she must have felt. And this is no make-believe story; it’s one based on fact, because Call The Midwife has been adapted from Jennifer Worth’s memoirs of her experiences as a midwife in London’s East End in the late 1950s.

In the grand scheme of things that’s not so very long ago but life could not have been more different. And in this age of benefits and help that is all too often taken for granted, how many of us have any idea what being sent to the workhouse actually meant?

As old and lonely Mrs Jenkins’ story revealed, it was a place of unspeakable mental cruelty; a place where family members were kept apart and children, although perhaps heard, were seldom seen again. It was this that had left an indelible mark on Mrs Jenkins, right down to the workhouse howl which was as chilling as her story.

Fortunately, and thanks to the nuns and midwives, both stories had a happy ending – Lynette was reunited with the baby she had abandoned on the steps of Nonnatus House and old Mrs Jenkins (wonderfully portrayed by Sheila Reid) was given not only the care she so rightly deserved from a fledgling NHS but also closure on the loss of her many children.

If all this sounds depressing, it wasn’t, for the whole episode was interwoven with Chummy’s attempts to stage the ‘perfect’ nativity. Of course, there was the obligatory hiccup when all the costumes were ruined by a burst water pipe, but good fortune prevailed and the end result was a delight.

What makes Call The Midwife such an excellent drama is its attention to detail and its ability to convey the realism of the 1950s with hard-hitting storylines that may well bring a tear to the eye but are never overly sentimental.

Of course, there’s the cast too – comprised of Jessica Raine (as Jenny Lee), Jenny Agutter (Sister Julienne), Pam Ferris (Sister Evangelina), Judy Parfitt (Sister Monica Joan), Miranda Hart (Chummy Noakes), Bryony Hannah (Cynthia Miller) and Helen George (Trixie Franklin) – and they are all excellent.

And if you’re not totally convinced by the nuns then think again. My first experience of obstetrics was as a student nurse at a small maternity hospital in Wimbledon which was run by nuns. Believe me, they were every bit as human as Sister Julienne and Co – hard task masters yes but kind, compassionate and full of fun.

This Christmas special was an excellent production and I for one can’t wait for the new series to begin.