I think the majority of us were surprised when a programme about a group of 1950s midwives living in a convent became a massive hit in the early part of this year. However Heidi Thomas’ adaptation of Jennifer Worth’s memoirs did just that and Call the Midwife now rightfully receives the Christmas special treatment. The Christmas special recounts Jenny Lee’s first Christmas in Poplar and almost straight away we get a full on birth scene with Sister Julienne finally getting some action and helping Jenny with the birth. After the baby has been successfully delivered Jenny is questioned by an old vagrant lady about how the birth went and if the baby was alright. With Jenny concerned about the lady’s wellbeing she starts doing some research, aided by Sister Evangelina, who discovers that her name is Mrs Jenkins and she is well known to those in the general community. As Jenny digs further she finds that Mrs Jenkins has lived a rough life and had many children while she was at the workhouse however she was separated from all of them. As always seems to be the way with Call the Midwife, Jenny saves another soul by helping Mrs Jenkins get back on her feet and making her see both the doctor and the dentist while her skills as a former seamstress are also put to good use later on.
Elsewhere we see neighbourhood girl Lynette poking her nose at the women’s health manuals while accompanying her mother to one of the many clinics held by the midwives. Chummy believes that Lynette is interested in becoming a nurse, especially as she has just left school, however anybody who has seen a programme like this before has already worked out that she is pregnant. Obviously Lynette, who acts as a second mother to her many siblings, has to keep her pregnancy a secret from her overbearing mother and her God-fearing father so uses the information she has gathered in the pamphlets to have the baby in secret. Lynette then leaves the baby on the steps of Nonnatus House where she knows it will be well-cared for and indeed when the nuns find the baby they instantly take a shine to him. Later when the doctor examines the baby he realises that if they don’t find the mother soon enough then she will start to become infected and indeed Lynette later collapses while playing the angel in Chummy’s nativity play. Though at first her parents are appalled at the idea of their daughter having a son they later come round to the idea when they finally meet their new grandchild.
To counterbalance all these vagrant women and teenage mothers we also have the comedy plot which of course involves Miranda Hart’s Chummy and the aforementioned nativity play. At first the play is simply a small affair involving Chummy’s rowdy group of Scouts who are participating in the show in order to earn their performance badges. However as the production grows so does the community interest and after the mayor announces that he is attending the show Chummy goes into overdrive and gets the guides involved also. Chummy’s manic behaviour also upsets her new husband Peter who’d rather she just left it as the simple production it started off at and as you can imagine there are several catastrophes along the way that almost bring events to a standstill. Thankfully though in classic Call the Midwife fashion all of the central characters band together to make sure that everything goes according to plan because at the end of the day the central message of the show is that we’re all in this together.
About five minutes into the Call the Midwife Christmas Special I was wondering how many people would actually want to watch a full on birth scene while they were still digesting their turkey dinner. Indeed there are plenty of bleak moments here as Jenny takes Mrs Jenkins to visit the mass grave in which all her children are buried and later on when Lynette almost dies after covering up her pregnancy. Thankfully any fans of Call the Midwife know that any scenes of squalor and deprivation are quickly put to one side when Judy Parfitt’s Sister Monica-Joan has a senior moment or Chummy says something delightfully posh. Indeed it is the first scene of this episode, in which a bunch of scruffy youths watch Pinky and Perky through a shop window, which sets the tone for the next hour or so as the message is that these people may be deprived by they’re making the most of what they have. The snowy-covered cobbles add to the picturesque nature of the programme as the midwives continue to ride their bikes despite the danger of slipping on a nasty piece of black ice. As far as the stories go I think it was brave of the show to tackle the issue of loneliness among the elderly, an issue that is still prevalent today, even though Mrs Jenkins’ life is turned around after her association with the lovely Jenny Lee.
The other thing that Call the Midwife has going for it is its ensemble cast which mixes familiar faces with less-established stars which creates a neat mix. Pam Ferris, Judy Parfitt and Jenny Agutter are reliable hands who add a sense of gravitas to proceedings with the scenes featuring their nuns celebrating Christmas reminding us all of the true meaning of the festive season. Jessica Raine also continues to impress as Jenny however once again it is Miranda Hart who steals all the scenes as the completely lovable Chummy. For me though it is the guest actors who dominate the episode with Benidorm’s Sheila Reid being absolutely captivating as Mrs Jenkins while Walking and Talking’s Ami Metcalf once again delivers a strong performance as Lynette. Indeed the only characters who I felt were somewhat misused by the episode where Stephen McGann’s Dr Turner and Laura Main’s Sister Bernadette who almost seemed like they were going to begin an illicit romance at one point but at the end of the day nothing ever came of their closeness while the story involving him and his young son also fizzled out.
Despite the afterbirth, mass graves and abandoned babies I personally feel that Call the Midwife is the ideal choice for a Christmas special as it both nostalgic and easy to follow. I don’t think anybody really wants to watch a complex or gritty drama over the festive period and I think this drama has the perfect blend of compelling storyline and feel-good ending. The combination of the accomplished cast, the brilliant production design and Thomas’ well-paced script make for a great if unchallenging viewing experience. My only advice to anyone considering watching it is to make sure you’ve had your Christmas Dinner several hours in advance as some scenes may make the stomach turn slightly.
Did you enjoy the Call the Midwife Christmas Special? Do you think it fit well into the festive schedules? Leave Your Comments Below.