Last year, a programme about midwives in the 1950s was set to air on BBC1 with very little fanfare and with a lead actress in Jessica Raine, that nobody had ever heard of. Somehow, though Call the Midwife went on to become the BBC’s biggest drama hit in years, thanks maybe to the squalid setting of East End London that was miles away from the stuffy stately homes of Downton Abbey, or maybe it was due to the supporting cast of Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris and Miranda Hart who added some much needed weight to proceedings. Whatever it was, people really took to the programme, and after a thoroughly successful festive special, which was the second most watched programme on Christmas Day after Eastenders, it’s back for a full second series containing all of the elements that made last year’s series such a hit.
At the start of the new episode, we find Raine’s Jenny Lee celebrating a birthday along with her fellow nurses and the nuns in whose house they live and work from. Thankfully the young nurses don’t have to stick around with the nuns all night and glam themselves out for a night on the town, which involves a trip to the cinema to see South Pacific. The fun can’t last for long though as Jenny has to find her ’cause of the week’ who is usually someone who is having an awful time until they meet the lovely nurse who changes things around for them…
In this week’s episode that is Molly Brignall, an expectant mother who doesn’t turn up to clinic and when Jenny turns up finds out that her abusive husband is torturing her for him having to provide for yet another child. Jenny is also horrified by the squalor that Molly is living in, and finds out that her mother used to give her money to look after the house, but they lost contact after she got married. Keen to meddle in the relationships of others, Jenny tries to get the mother and daughter to build bridges, however when Molly’s husband Richie finds that they have reconnected, he threatens to burn Molly so Jenny concocts a plan to get Molly out of the house for good. Obviously Jenny’s well-intentioned interference doesn’t always work out the way she planned and if you haven’t seen the episode yet I won’t ruin how exactly Molly escapes her life of abuse.
The other major storyline in this week’s episode features on tarty Trixie who is constantly late for work and is often punished by Ferris’ Sister Evangelina who makes her check-up on a whole estate of pregnant women single-handedly. Inevitably the two are forced to work together after Trixie receives a call from a cargo ship telling her that a woman on board is in pain and possibly in labour. As the two reach the ship, they realise they will have to climb a rope ladder which Evangelina has no issue with, but girly Trixie struggles with however she eventually gets to the top. The pair discover that the woman in question is the captain’s daughter, whose main role on the ship is to ‘give the men relief’ in order to stop fights on the ship as the captain has realised that men are less aggressive when they have been with a woman. Despite being in possession of plenty of contraception, somehow something went wrong and now Kristen is pregnant, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a problem with the birth and Trixie has to deal with it solo after Evangelina dislocates her shoulder. This involves a segment in which Trixie utters the regular line of ‘We are not going to lose this baby’ before earning the respect of Sister Evangelina by successfully delivering the baby. Trixie also helps Kristen to gain some self-respect as she decides to get off the ship and not let men treat her like some sort of play thing.
Though the focus throughout Call the Midwife has been mainly on Jenny, and to a lesser extent Miranda Hart’s Chummy, it appears as if this second series is giving some of the other characters a chance to shine. The story with Trixie is a case in point as she was always someone who lurked in the background, occasionally saying something about make-up or boys, which will probably be her role once again now she’s had her moment in the sun. Another plot line that started in the Christmas episode was that of Laura Main’s Sister Bernadette’s potential romance with Stephen McGann’s widowed Doctor Turner, who this week became popular with the pregnant women of Poplar after introducing Gas and Air into the community. To me, Bernadette was always an interesting character as she never seemed like she truly belonged with the older nuns, and you can see she shares more in common with the younger characters as she jokes with the nurses about her new glasses. I personally think this could be the most interesting plot strand of this series of Call the Midwife as an illicit relationship between one of the nuns and the doctor has endless potential certainly more than Jenny going around trying to help people every week.
If this first episode is anything to go by, then the Call the Midwife team are sticking to the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ method as there’s nothing new here really. Jenny Lee is still awfully well-meaning, Pam Ferris is still brusque, Jenny Agutter is still the wise sage who doesn’t ever get to go into the field and Minty from Eastenders is still on hand to change the oil in the nurses’ bikes which sadly isn’t a euphemism. I think the success of Call the Midwife is that it’s an easy watch, and people know what they’re going to get from it, however I do like something a bit more exciting from my dramas than the jeopardy of Pam Ferris climbing up a rope ladder. I have no problem with the ensemble cast who all do a good job at what their meant to do, however the characters are all a bit one-dimensional, with the exception of Sister Bernadette who I really hope gets some stories this time around. Ultimately, if you were a fan of the first series then you’ll enjoy this second run just as much, however for those who find it a little bit tame last time around, I’m afraid there’s not been a dramatic shift in tone. To me, Call the Midwife is one of those shows that I may dip in and out of every so often, but it’s not one that I’ll go out of my way to catch up on as it really hasn’t given me enough gripping stories to make me tune in on a weekly basis.
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