Monday, 31 August 2015


“Each day is a little life: Every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.” - Arthur Schopenhauer

We have just finished watching the first two seasons (2012-13) of the excellent BBC TV series “Call the Midwife”. The screenplay by Heidi Thomas is based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs: “Call the Midwife”, later called “Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s”, is the first in a trilogy of books describing Worth’s work as a district nurse and midwife in the East End of London during the 1950s. Worth wrote the book after retiring from a subsequent career as a musician, and it was originally published in 2002. Reissued in 2007, it became a bestseller, as did the sequel “Shadows of the Workhouse” (2005, reissued 2008) and the final volume “Farewell to the East End” (2009). By the time of Jennifer Worth’s death in June 2011, her books had already sold almost a million copies.

The story of the series follows twenty-two year old Jenny Lee, who in 1957 leaves her comfortable home to become a midwife in London’s East End, one of the poorest districts of the metropolis. She is surprised to find that she will be living in a convent, Nonnatus House. Working alongside fellow nurses and the medically-trained nuns, Jenny has her eyes opened to the harsh living conditions of the slums, but she also discovers the warm hearts and the bravery of the mothers. Even after Jenny leaves Nonnatus, she continues to chronicle the lives of the midwives who have become her family.

The casting is perfect and Jessica Raine as Jenny Lee, shines as the inexperienced midwife who gains knowledge, skill, wisdom and maturity through her association with the nuns and fellow midwives, but most of all, the ordinary people of the East End. Helen George as the attractive, vivacious Trixie does well with her role as a “modern and fashionable” young nurse, while Miranda Hart as the tall, ungainly and awkward Chummy is both likeable and believable in her fish out of the water role. Jenny Agutter as the Mother Superior plays in a faultless, understated fashion and her immense acting experience really comes through. The rest of the cast is also exceptional, while the costumes and sets are up to the usual wonderful BBC period drama standards.

The real success of the series is the stories. Each episode deals with a variety of themes, which are replete with humanity at its best and worst. There are moments of high drama and heart-wrenching poignancy, there is humour, grit and sensitivity. The scenes of childbirth are sensitively done, but are also realistic and in some cases quite confronting. However, the whole is tastefully done and quite enthralling. One familiar with the books may balk a little as the screenplay has elaborated the anecdotes of the books. Some of the diversions from the book are to allow the characters other than Jenny Lee to have stronger story lines, which works well for TV. Some of the story lines have been expanded and enhanced for dramatic effect, so they are not relying strictly upon the original author’s memoirs, but rather the imagination of the scriptwriters. Once again this is understandable, given the medium of TV.

This series is entertaining, engaging, utterly watchable and most enjoyable. It proves that if a TV series deals with topics of general interest, has real characters and situations that display ordinary humans trying to make sense of the complicated and messy thing that we call life, it succeeds on multiple levels and makes for satisfying viewing. I recommend this most highly to anyone who wants to not only be entertained, but who also wants to learn a little of the history of mid-20th century London and also of the lives of midwives. We look forward to seeing the rest of the seasons (up to Season 5 in 2016!).

1 comment:

  1. This should be an entertaining family affair. One is exposed to the hardships and realities of not too long ago.It helps to create further awareness of how fortunate we are. Thanks for sharing Nicholas!