- Series Title: Call the Midwife
- Season: 1
- Episodes: 6
- Discs: 2
- Cast: Vanessa Redgrave (voice only), Jessica Raine, Helen George, Miranda Hart, Jenny Agutter, Judy Parfitt, Pam Ferris, Ben Caplan
- Original Network: BBC
Call the Midwife is a series about young nurse-midwives serving the extremely poor community of the East End in London in 1957 (for Series 1). The NHS nurses live in Nonnatus House, which is staffed by a group of Anglican Nuns dedicated to be midwives to poor women. The nurses are, for the most part, fresh out of nursing school and newly qualified as midwives. They are professional, educated, young women, with additional training as midwives. Call the Midwife is also based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth.
As this series clearly and without rose-tinted glasses shows us, the East End of 1950s London was extremely, extremely poor and in the opening of the first episode, the voice of “Mature Jenny” tells us that families of six to ten children were common. The first episode of Call the Midwife features a woman with twenty-four children, and the difficult birth of her twenty-fifth child. She has been continuously pregnant since marrying her husband and hadn’t even had a period in over twenty years. Twenty-five children? Can you imagine?
The second episode introduces “Chummy”, a large and clumsy nurse and when I say large, I don’t mean fat, I mean “large” – she’s over six foot tall, and big and hardy. Yet Chummy, as she asks everyone to call her, is both an extremely competent nurse – cool, calm, and collected in a crisis, and the first of the young nurses to marry – dating and eventually marrying PC Noakes (because apparently, even in the 1950s, in England, “blues & whites” or cops and nurses was a thing). Chummy is one of my favorite characters – she lacks confidence due to a lifetime of being belittled because of her size and being told she was never good enough by an over-bearing mother. Watching Chummy grow is amazing.
Jenny, introduced in the first episode, is our point-of-view character. She’s surprised when she turns up at Nonnatus House, to find a group of nuns – she had thought it was a small, private hospital. Throughout Series 1, Jenny is shocked by the living conditions of her patients. But she also comes to admire their fortitude and grit in the face of overwhelming adversity and poverty.
Oddly enough, Call the Midwife, most reminds me of All Creatures Great and Small, the television series based on James Herroit’s memoirs. Yes, All Creatures Great and Small is about a vet in rural Yorkshire in the 1930s, and Call the Midwife is about midwives in East End London in the 1950s, but both series are about caring people working among a unique population. Both series deal with tragedy and poverty. What surprised me about watching Call the Midwife was just how sad the show is. And both All Creatures Great and Small and Call the Midwife deal with a very unique group of people. Both series also generate in the watcher sympathy for a poor, under-served population of people.
Finally, Call the Midwife is not only a series in which the entire cast for the most part are women, and most of the guest cast is women, dealing with very much a woman’s issue: childbirth; but the series is also produced, written, and even directed mostly by women. That is an achievement in and of itself.