I felt compelled to write about one of my favourite BBC 1 shows which returned to our screens a few weeks ago. The nostalgic, moving and thought provoking Call the Midwife
The post war landscape of Poplar has changed an awful lot since Young Nurse Jenny arrived at Nonatus House to be a midwife. The basic premise was this, young midwives live in a convent where nuns supplement the prenatal care of the great and good of East London.
Now in Series 4 We have lost Jenny Lee the naive girl running away from a failed love affair with a married man, who closed her off to all suitors until she met and fell for the architect who went on to fall himself and die in the most gut wrenching scenes of season 2. Happily Jenny married the softly spoken Mr Worth and become Jennifer Worth whose autobiographical novels were the source material for this oft overlooked Sunday night Drama
We have lost the sweet nurse Cynthia whose gentle nature was always going to end in her taking the veil, she was little used in the series which I find a great shame. She was a friend, a silent observer against the idealism of Jenny or the glamour of Trixie (who we will come to).
Most upsetting to me is the loss of the clumsy, plummy voiced Chummy the midwife who took every emergency, medical or otherwise by the horns with her "Have a go" attitude. Her departure in episode one was Classic Chummy and a fitting au Revoir to Miranda Hart whose year sabbatical is well deserved!
This has left a fair few gaps in the staff and this season began with the arrival of new nurse and a new era for Poplar and Nonatus House.
Nurse Gilbert arrives to an empty house where Sister Monica Joan, the slightly dotty, but infinitely educated, caring and precious member of the household refuses her admittance, steals her bananas and so begins her tenure. I always find sister Monica's monologues and asides moving as she struggles to stay lucid and in the moment but her wisdom well is deeper than her forgetfulness suggests and she often speaks truths we all should take heed of.
Sister Evangelina is suffering from the stomach complaint that was hinted at in the Christmas special.
The central story this week , the first where Trixie was able to take a full role ,was the little boy
desperately trying to look after his three little sisters whilst his mother was away , one presumes prostituting herself as a hostess in a "club". The tragic scene where he pours milk through the
letterbox for his sister to catch in a dirty old mug and his sister treasuring a bag of Bisto gravy
granules which she had been eating was just tragic. The simplest act of washing their hair became a prize beyond measure, allowing them to keep their hair rather than live the indignity of being branded as poor and nit ridden. The end of their story was sad too sent to Australia, where many children were ill treated, but for a short while they were looked after and cherished.
This is the beauty of the Show, the essence of why it is so good, the balance between the utter horror of humanity at its lowest ebb and the joy that Acts of kindness can bring. Yes they are Nuns, yes they live in a convent, but this is about Christianity at its purest.
The nuns are involved in the case a West Indian couple whose lust for life is infectious and vivacious . When Nurse Gilbert has difficulty finding the foetal heartbeat, she calls an ambulance where on
further examination a heart is heard. The delivery reveals a stillborn and twin hidden before, the very lively baby they had thought was present, in fact two one getting sicker as pregnancy progressed.
The scenes were handled with great delicacy and the newest addition to the group, Nurse Crane and sister Evangelina's rivalry to be top dog is thrown aside to delivery baby number two safely. The
religious implications of the stillborn not being able to be funeralised was dealt with by Curate Tom,
Trixie's Fiancé in one of the most beautiful little memorial ceremonies I have ever seen involving the little booties knitted for the single baby they had expected.
This episode also slotted in the very sweet revelation that Patsy is in love with one of the Other nurses at the Nurses home, so gracefully handled and really beautifully played.
Sister Julienne has the trial and privilege to spend time with a terminally ill benefactor for Nonatus House as she reunites with her first love, a man she left to take up holy orders. She visits him and they talk of old times .
What Call the Midwife seems to excel at is to humanise all of the main characters and of all of them Sister Julienne has been the one that has remained most hidden by the vows she has taken, but here we see some of the struggles she must have had to leave the sweet man whose dying wish was to have the date at the cinema to see a film where he was going to propose, complete with Choc ices. How different her life might have been, but her dedication to help all souls was a good one and I think one she would not regret.
This of all the episodes this series will have been the most emotive for some viewers. The seemingly deliriously happily married couple with a baby on the way are thrown into despair when the handsome husband is caught in the "gentleman's Convenience" by an undercover officer attempting a homosexual act.
This story is heartbreaking on so many levels, that homosexuality was thought of as perversion, that the treatment is so barbaric, that Tony felt so trapped by the side effects the hormone treatment might have, that he felt it necessary to try to end his life. In the rosy Sunday evening way that CTM has, Tony found a measure of peace in his baby and was evidently going to make a go of his marriage once his father in law gave him support, but I wonder how many other men felt stigmatised enough to just make do in marriages for the sake of the children ?