I’m going to break away from my usual format of writing reviews for shows that have only a season or two under their belt and talk about a show that I recently discovered on Netflix, “Call the Midwife”. I say recently discovered but what I mean is, I knew of the show for quite a while, just never invested the time in watching it until recently. I’m very glad I did.
Set in the late 1950’s East London, the show centers around a group of nurse midwives working with the nuns of Nonnatus House; a nursing convent. The nuns are part of the Anglican religious order and serve the poor and depraved working class residents of Poplar district, however, their main duty is to safely deliver the 80-100 babies born each month in this district alone. The series starts when newcomer, Nurse Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), arrives to put her training to use at what she thinks will be a small hospital. What she gets, upon her arrival, is a serious culture shock. Jenny comes from a relatively privileged background and has never seen let alone served the kinds of people living in the East End. In time she learns to cope with her new surroundings and even love the people she helps.
Along with Nurse Jenny Lee there is: Nurse Camilla “Chummy” Browne (Miranda Hart), Nurse Beatrix “Trixie” Franklin (Helen George) and Nurse Cynthia Miller (Bryony Hannah). This group of midwives range from those new to the profession, to those who have been there long enough to not be shocked at the conditions of Poplar district. Then there are the nuns who oversee and mentor the young nurses. Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) is the sister-in-charge at Nonnatus House. She has the most experience and while she is deeply religious, she also conducts the midwifery with a practical eye. She is who many of the young nurses turn to for guidance when faced with seemingly impossible situations. Then there is Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris).
Of everyone there she is the only one with personal experience of the types of people they serve. Her background was rough and it shows in the no-nonsense manner in which she goes about her work. Even though she comes off hard and unyielding, she has a great big heart and an even greater sense of wicked humor. When things go sideways, she's the one you want with you. Definitely a favorite of mine. Sister Bernadette (Laura Main) is the youngest in their order. Very professional in attitude as well as devout, she is close to the younger nurses in age. Unlike the other Sisters, she isn’t weighed down by years of experience or a childhood filled with hardship like the other nuns. Then there is, Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt). Sister Monica Joan was the first woman in Britain to qualify as a midwife at a time when such a thing was considered scandalous. From a very wealthy and titled family, when she decided to become a nun she lost them as they were never able to accept her decision to become a nun. When we meet her, she’s in the twilight of her life and full of mischief. She is known to eat whole cakes, she's extremely eccentric, chronically forgetful and obsessed with astrology. In short, she’s a hoot! Judy Parfitt, whom I loved in Delores Claiborne, is magnificent in this role.
It isn't all babies and poverty with this show. For the romantics, there are several love interests that come around. Some for a season and some for a lifetime. Full disclosure, don't expect the usual TV hunk for our leading nurses. Remember, this is 1950's East London, hunkiness just wouldn't do. Still, some solid contenders to look forward to. This show has a very, Road to Avonlea, feel but for adults and happy endings are not guaranteed. Embedded in the drama are pieces of history, in particular, women’s history that I personally find fascinating and more than once, horrifying. Each character is her own unique kind of complex though you never get the whole picture in just one episode. So far, peeling back the layers has been well worth the wait. For those who love historical period drama’s a la Downton Abbey, this show is for you. It airs in the U.S. on PBS and is currently filming its fourth season which will air in 2015. Right now the first two seasons can be streamed via Netflix.