What We’re Watching: Call The Midwife
I am an unabashed, unashamed Anglophile; as luck would have it, I also love period dramas. Downton Abbey, Bleak House, Wives and Daughters, Jane Eyre, even the zany, soap opera-ish The Grand – I adore them all. But I’m also a bit tired of their formulaic romances and betrayals, where the most rebellious thing a woman can do is marry for love, even if the man is -gasp!- of a lower class. A big appeal of period dramas is the glimpses they offer into life in a different time. Their clothes, their food, their living spaces, all are fascinating. So when I heard that there was a new period drama on the scene (well, new to American audiences) that focused not on romance, but on day to day life for women of a peculiar, and definitely not genteel occupation, I could hardly wait to watch.
And I have to say, Call the Midwife delivers. Focusing on the lives of nurses and nuns residing at the Nonnatus House convent in 1950s London’s East End, the show gives us a glimpse of a lifestyle we normally don’t see in period dramas. It quickly outlines it’s goal in the first episode- to show how the newly minted National Health Service provided relief for low-income mothers through caring and dedicated nurses.
Based on the memoirs of nurse Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife doesn’t shy away from the realities of life. The nurses administer enemas, the patients lay down newspaper in hopes of not getting their beds too messy. A teenage prostitute bonds with her baby, only to have it taken from her, never to be reunited. The neighborhood is still littered with rubble from the war, and an eery fog at one point almost makes the show look like a horror movie.
But Call the Midwife isn’t all gloom and drama; there are plenty of funny, lighthearted moments as well. The oldest of the nuns pilfers cake the other nuns have tried to hide from her. Adding Miranda Hart to the cast was a brilliant move; a big part of the second episode focuses on her character, the clumsy aristocrat Camilla Cholomondley-Browne (or “Chummy”), learning how to ride a bike so she can actually get to her patients.
It is incredibly refreshing to watch a period drama that focuses on women and women alone. In the first two episodes, the only male characters are on the periphery looking in, like the fathers waiting outside the bedroom for the first signs of a new life being born within. There’s no discussion of politics, of the war, of attracting husband material, of having their own babies in the future. The series focuses on women helping other women in need. Instead of fighting, they solve problems together; instead of going out dancing, they hone their skills and study. And delightfully enough, Call the Midwife still more than manages to be fun to watch. Who knew women getting along could be so entertaining?