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Call the Midwife is at a crossroads. It MUST take right turn

PUBLISHED: 15:35 30 December 2018 | UPDATED: 10:09 31 December 2018

Part of the cover of Jennifer Worth's 2002 book from Merton Books that, really, started it all

Part of the cover of Jennifer Worth's 2002 book from Merton Books that, really, started it all

If not, might be best to stop after the 2020 series and simply cherish the good memories

Jessica Raine, who starred in Call the Midwife from 2012 to 2014 as young recruit Jenny Lee. Her aged character (voiced by Vanessa Redgrave) provides the short looking-back narration at the end of each episode.  Picture: Ibsan73Jessica Raine, who starred in Call the Midwife from 2012 to 2014 as young recruit Jenny Lee. Her aged character (voiced by Vanessa Redgrave) provides the short looking-back narration at the end of each episode. Picture: Ibsan73

The Call the Midwife Christmas special was a treat – back to form, with plenty of humour alongside the drama. A Heidi Thomas triumph. We must hope it foreshadows powerful and punchy new episodes for 2019. Because last year’s series was… well, patchy.

There were good reasons. Helen George’s pregnancy took Trixie away from Poplar for half the time, and Tom and Barbara didn’t return until episode five. It left an already-thin cast threadbare in places, and reduced the oomph factor.

Remember, Nonnatus House had lost the troubled Sister Mary Cynthia in 2017, followed by the departure (without ceremony) of loved-up Patsy and Delia. And the hole left by the death of Pam Ferris’s blunt-speaking Sister Evangelina in the spring of 2016, when she expired quietly in her chair, hadn’t been filled.

All strong characters with depth and colour and emotions. A lot to lose.

It could have been shored up, though. The claiming of Barbara by meningococcal septicaemia was touchingly and beautifully done – brilliantly written and paced, and believably portrayed by those involved. It was a highlight of the TV year. But the rest of the series needed more.

It’s surprising more hasn’t been done to develop the character of Sister Winifred, whose raison d’être appeared to be the provider of gentle comedy in trying to make harvest loaves and learning to drive.

This week’s Christmas special – where she sought to question authority – showed emotional complexity and backbone we hadn’t really seen before. A shame. For it seems to have come too late. It appears Sister Winifred will be staying with the children at the Mother House (while actress Victoria Yeates flies away to, apparently, spend more time in JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts world of wizardry).

And then we have relative newcomers Valerie Dyer and Lucille Anderson, who really haven’t had enough to get their teeth into. Both characters need professional and personal challenges to test them and show us sides we haven’t seen.

Pam Ferris. Her blunt-speaking Sister Evangelina is much-missed. Picture: EvangelinacpPam Ferris. Her blunt-speaking Sister Evangelina is much-missed. Picture: Evangelinacp

Goodness, it’s not as if the opportunities aren’t there. Valerie’s a former army nurse and East End barmaid; there must be backstories aplenty to exploit, and show her depth of personality. How about a face from the past causing trouble, or a new relationship that goes badly?

And Jamaican Lucille, still missing her family after years in England, hasn’t developed greatly. Maybe the new series will bring something to test her religious faith to, almost, breaking point.

Actually, the slight loosening-up of Lucille was one of the many positives about the Christmas Day programme, sharing a bit of banter and quick dialogue with Valerie and other characters.

The interchange between Fred and Violet Buckle shone, and the straight-talking of Miriam Margolyes’ Sister Mildred injected energy and pace.

Then there was the torment of Sister Julienne, torn between her (likely) duty to remain at the Mother House as the new Mother Superior and a desire to return to Poplar to continue her vital hands-on work.

In the imminent new series, more characters need to face dilemmas like that. It’s what makes compelling drama. If there isn’t enough, things become bland.

And if Call the Midwife doesn’t have “bite”, then the best thing might be to call it a day after series nine in 2020, remember the drama at its best, and be grateful for all those wonderfully funny and sad and uplifting Sunday nights we’ve had since 2012.

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