by Brad Nelson 1/20/14
There is the distinct possibility that watching this will lower your testosterone level. But that’s not to say that Call the Midwife is necessarily a chick flick. Whatever it is, it is quite well done.
Set in a poor section of East London in the 1950’s, this series concerns the efforts of the ladies of Nonnatus House, a clinic of nurses and medically-trained nuns. Their job has mostly to do with delivering babies, although they tend to do general health work as well. If you can get past the overly maudlin voiceovers by Vanessa Redgrave at the beginning and end of each episode (she plays the older version of the main character, Jenny Lee), you’ll find your way inside a series that will show you way more women giving painful birth than you ever supposed could make for good television.
They key to this series is the players and the immersion in an interesting place and time. This is a historical drama that puts you there in extraordinary circumstances. But these circumstances (usually a difficult childbirth) are run-of-the-mill for the ladies and nuns of Nonnatus House.
Jenny Agutter (known best for Logan’s Run) plays the head Sister. Nothing discombobulates her and she is always there to provide a ready smile and a soft touch. Jessica Rain plays Jenny Lee. We see this experience of midwifery mostly through her eyes. Although personable and charming, she’s nowhere near as interesting as most of the other players. Fortunately much of the time is apportioned amongst them.
Bryony Hannah plays Cynthia Miller, a humble and sweet nurse whose small stature belies her skill. The blond bombshell, Helen George, plays the fairly nondescript Trixie Franklin who seems a bit out of place in this series but does add some contrast. Judy Parfitt plays the eccentric Sister Monica Joan who is always ready with a strange bit of homespun prophesying.
Pam Ferris plays the gruff nun, Sister Evangelina. And the more you see of her, the more you will like her…even if it is just her well-acted dislikability. But my favorite of all is Miranda Hart who plays the somewhat Amazonian (in stature) Chummy Noakes. Anyone who can say “TTFN” (tah tah for now) and make it work is okay in my book. She plays the ugly duckling, but one with a rumbling charm and grace that is catching.
All this adds up to a lot of talented nurses and nuns making house calls to an often truly pathetic clientele. You’ll see the poor of the poor in quite disgusting conditions. And although there is some rah-rahing for the National Health Service, even this system was a step up for many of these people.
And you’ll face the extremes of modern non-judgmentalism in this series as well. Remember…we’re talking about socialist Britain. There is no vice that can’t be glorified as a woman’s noble struggle in the world (rather than being characterized as women making some really bad decisions and/or engaging in some very bad behavior).
And that’s where you might lose a little testosterone as everything is just accepted. Add to this the creepily too-sweet voice of Vanessa Redgrave at the end of each episode, and you might wonder how you got through it in the first place. But the stories are engaging and the acting is well done. And most men who watch this will be very glad that they are not the female of the sex. As they say, if men had to have babies, the human race would quickly become extinct.
The first two seasons of this is streamable on Netflix.