CALL THE MIDWIFE
by Cara Winter
For several years, I’ve been hearing about the fantastic the UK series CALL THE MIDWIFE, and having been told I must watch… I’ve started.
I’ve started, that is, having Braxton-Hicks contractions. And I’m not even preggers.
I don’t know about you peeps, but watching actresses writhe in the pretend-pain of pretend-childbirth gives me PTSD-like flashbacks to August 19th, 2007 at 5:43pm, and the 26 hours that preceded it. And while I marvel at the wonder that is my kiddo… I don’t particularly like to relive his actual birth. So… I had a tad bit of difficulty settling into the show, knowing that at any moment I might start cramping up.
All kidding aside, this show is actually quite special for a number of reasons. The attention to detail when recreating post-war England is remarkable; sets and costumes, hair and makeup, cars and locations – all tack-on, slap-yo-mama perfect. The writing is quite good – thoughtful, of the period, and brilliantly not calling attention to itself. Just the facts, ma’am… and, oh, how dramatic those facts are.
Created by Heidi Thomas and based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, CALL THE MIDWIFE revolves around a particularly mean and grubby area of East London in the years just following WWII. Our fish out of water is the dainty, pretty Jenny, the newest midwife to join the staff at Nonnatus House, a nursing convent. Jenny (played by Jessica Raine) is gentle, pure, and sweet – which sorta made me hate her a little, at first.
But, no matter, within a couple episodes I got into her character, as well as her cohorts, midwives Camilla “Chummy” Browne (played brilliantly by my favorite woman on the planet, Miranda Hart), Beatrix “Trixie” Franklin (played by Helen George) and Cynthia Miller (played by Bryony Hannah), as well as the elderly and mischievous Sister Monica Joan (played with impish glee by Judy Parfitt), who quotes poetry, eats too much cake, and might have a touch of dementia… that is, if it suits her present needs.
If I have one pet-peeve, it’s that it can be a tad melodramatic at times. When Jenny praises one of the working-class women she’s helping, she tells her she’s ‘a hero’ – which the woman doesn’t scoff at. I grew up around many so-called working class women, and let me tell you – someone calling them heroic to their face? Would have elicited a loud guffaw from one or more of them.
But in the case of CALL THE MIDWIFE, I’m happy to gloss over this nit-pick, for one simple reason: this show breaks new ground. Never before has a TV show’s sole purpose been to examine what women go through to propagate our species. (Which is, you know, kinda important, if you think about it.) Through this show’s lens, we get to examine an extremely interesting time.
A time when pregnancy and birth were actually quite perilous… and midwives were on the front lines. The show examines our pre-birth-control world, in which children were always unplanned, and how a woman’s life was quite literally controlled by that inability to plan — much like, I imagine, being on a ship adrift in the ocean, without a workings sail, or anchor. And with a hole in the hull.
The episode where a woman who doesn’t even speak the same language as her husband gives birth to their 19th or 20th child…? Oh, MY GOD, I went running to make sure my Pill prescription wasn’t set to expire before 2025. In other words… before we lived by the grace of God, now we live by the grace of Margaret Sanger, and I prefer Margaret Sanger.
If nothing else, CALL THE MIDWIFE gives us perspective. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are, nowadays, and how far we’ve come. And how much we owe to the women who came before us.
You can see CALL THE MIDWIFE on PBS and streaming on Amazon, and Season 4 scheduled to hit the US airwaves in 2015.
Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.