Reviewer: Rissi C.
Anything based on a memoir or a “true story” is usually worth paying attention to. In the case of this series, I had greater expectations than even I realized -- some of those hopes were met, others were too miserable to succeed.
Side-stepping love and a normal life, Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) decides to put her nursing career to a good purpose and become certified in midwifery. Not long after, she agrees to a position working with Nonnatus House in the lower east side, run by a small convent where the nuns provide free clinics and make house calls to expectant mothers. Efficiently run by Sister Julienne (Janny Agutter), Jenny is unprepared for the challenges that await. She learns to adjust to midnight calls and the peculiar personality of Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris), but finds friendship in her fellow co-workers, Trixie and Cynthia (Helen George, Bryony Hannah).
The first delivery Jenny
attends opens her eyes to the ignorance and
depravity of her patients – living situations that could
endanger a newborn. Meanwhile, Camilla “Chummy”
Browne (Miranda Hart) joins the girl’s as a certified
midwife and shakes up the household with her cheerful
outlook even as Jenny’s own past, one she is trying to
forget, begins to find her again.
Distancing itself from Jane Austen-esque era period pieces is a small way that the BBC seems to be re-inventing itself – it’s a decision that in retrospect is wise and has resulted in a string of fabulous productions. Based on the gritty memoir of Jennifer Worth on her experiences as a midwife in the 1950’s, this series was adapted by the talented Heidi Thomas. Call the Midwife isn’t for everyone, because it’s not all happiness and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea; here we see more dark emotions and situations consisting of realistic life in the 1950’s London streets. It took more than one episode for the show to endear itself to me. The premiere is “tense” and forgot to take the time to ease its audience into everything and find its footing with viewers. Instead, we're swiftly swept into the whirlwind of Jenny’s new life as she attends patients and accompanies her fellow midwives on calls. By the end, we still don't know much about Jenny or any other character.
Once the audience enters the third hour, the writers pace themselves better and we've fallen for each of them. From Trixie’s flirty, fun-loving personality to the stern nature of Sister Monica Jean, each of the supporting and leading cast is fabulous. Included in that cast is the voice of Vanessa Redgrave and Ben Caplan. Though often dark, there are glimmers of light to delight and surprise the audience. Once I knew what to expect of the series, I become increasingly drawn into its premise and stories. It was appalling to think people lived in such squander, and didn't want to better their lives because they assumed that living as they did was not harmful to their lives. Jenny is an empathetic if not quiet leading character and the young actress shoulders that responsibility well, but Chummy is the biggest surprise of all. She has 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 it can be. It has heart and seems to recognize its error in focusing 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.
There are dealings with prostitution (a teen is seen half-dressed lying in bed).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. A demonstration on birth control involves the use of condemns.
Perhaps a British slang word or two.
Every episode has at least one scene of childbirth (episode one has two or three); some more “graphic” than the others, including an intense breech birth.