Call the Midwife Episode Five: Sharon Small puts in a heart-breaking performance as a put-upon mother

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Over the past few weeks in my Call the Midwife reviews I’ve commented on how much better I think the series has got and that continues tonight in an extremely gritty episode focusing on a mum of eight played by Sharon Small. Some of you have also picked up on the fact that I’m occasionally over-critical of the programme however at the end of tonight’s instalment I had to admit that I had formed an emotional attachment to at least a few of the characters.

Tonight’s main storyline focused on Small’s Nora Harding an expectant mother who already had eight children and felt she couldn’t cope with one more mouth to feed. Despite older Jenny’s opening monologue mentioning ‘a magic pill’ and free contraception both were a distant dream for Nora who had to rely on grizzlier methods to get rid of her new child. We learn early on that Nora has tried to have a backstreet abortion performed by ‘herbalist’ Mrs Pritchard who charged Nora two guineas for a procedure that didn’t work. As Jenny surveys the dank nature of the Harding’s home, complete with rats trying to attack one of Nora’s youngest children, she realises the desperate nature of Nora’s situation but at the same time is powerless to do anything. Instead Nora tries to get rid of the baby in various ways including something involving knitting needles and also the use of Epsom salts. In the end though Nora resigns to the fact that she must return to Mrs Pritchard who now wants ten guineas which means cashing in the money that the Hardings had saved for their children’s future as well as Nora’s wedding ring. Personally I found the scenes at Mrs Pritchard’s particularly hard to take, especially for a pre-watershed BBC1 Sunday night show, but at the same time I liked the fact that Call the Midwife was attempting to be a bit grittier. Obviously the procedure has a negative effect on Nora’s health and once again Jenny realises what is happening just in the nick of time and she alongside Sister Julienne attempt to save Nora’s life.

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To counteract this fairly bleak story we see the organisation of a church fete with the vicar’s wife, who to Sister Monica Joan’s horror is now wearing slacks, telling the nuns that this year half of the proceedings will go to their ante-natal clinic. In return she wants them to organise several events including a beautiful baby contest while we also see Fred readying the scouts for a performance of Robin Hood. The nurses are also tasked with finding a guest judge for the contest and after discounting a lot of stars of the time, including Cliff Richard claiming that he’s too young, they attempt to charm TV star Clifford Raines. Raines, played by Casualty’s Tristan Gemmill, is a classic charmer who Trixie flirts with mercilessly in order to get him as a judge for the contest with his price being dinner with her. After the dinner is relocated from a posh hotel to his home we realise that something is amiss and it’s not long before he tries to force himself on her but thankfully she is able to run away. I think this plot strand was a good idea as it added a bit more depth to the character of Trixie as she questioned whether her flirtatious nature led Clifford on in some way. This is also counter-balanced by the saintly Jenny who won’t even give her phone number to a man but then the majority of the men Jenny goes for are either engaged or married.

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Talking of forbidden feelings Sister Bernadette’s struggle with her faith and her relationship with Dr Turner were focused on as she tried to pluck up the courage to talk to Sister Julienne about how she was feeling. Their conversation is cut short though and in the end it is Monica Joan who notes that Bernadette’s face is full of blank sadness and continued tears. Eventually Sister Julienne is able to consult Bernadette however the thought of confessing all to her makes her physically ill and the two decide to put the difficult conversation on hold. It may be a little late though as Dr Turner goes to tend to Bernadette’s hand after she’s competed with his son in the three-legged race however in a bold medical move he kisses her wound instead. Obviously this storyline is going to intensify over the coming weeks and it is the one that I think a lot of fans of the show are fairly invested in. Finally were allowed a bit more time with Monica Joan, who may well be my favourite character, as she made herself ill to get out of going on holiday with Jane noting that the veteran midwife needed something to do apart from knitting pigs all day. Eventually Sister Monica Joan’s moment came when a replacement judge was needed for the beautiful baby contest as Jane, whose confidence has grown a lot since her encounter with the Reverend last week, suggests the woman who has the most knowledge of babies and I’m not afraid to say that a little tear came to my eye at that very moment.

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I have to say that that proves without a shadow of a doubt that I am beginning to become emotionally invested in some of the characters notably Jane as well as Sisters Monica Joan and Bernadette which is mainly due to the fine performances from Dorothy Atkinson, Judy Parfitt and Laura Main. Call the Midwife has also continued its run of finding some brilliant guest stars as this week’s turn from Sharon Small was top-notch as she convincingly portrayed a woman who saw her new baby as a hindrance rather than a blessing. I thought this episode was quite brave in the way it dealt with illegal abortions with Jenny once again torn over whether doing the right thing was also the legal thing while I also loved Sister Julienne’s line about having seen Nora’s situation many times before. I’m fully expecting this fairly graphic episode to get complaints about the abortion plot but for me the scene in which Clifford attempts to force himself onto Trixie was just as shocking especially as it seemingly came out of nowhere. Overall another enjoyable episode which mixed some very contemporary issues with some heartfelt performances and after three strong instalments I am now enjoying Call the Midwife a lot more than I was when this series started.

Did you enjoy tonight’s Call the Midwife? Did you think it was too much for a pre-watershed programme? Leave Your Comments Below.

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6 Responses to “Call the Midwife Episode Five: Sharon Small puts in a heart-breaking performance as a put-upon mother”

  1. Sarah says:

    Did Nora die in the end. Wasn’t sure?

  2. beth says:

    I thought the eprisode was great at showing real life situations, but it was a little to squeemish for me. I nearly passed out. I hope it doesn’t put the show in jeapardy though is it really is brilliant and I praise the actors and actresses who had to portray these people.

  3. Louise dean says:

    Not suitable for pre watershed airing.

  4. Kennedy says:

    OMG! Last night’s Call The Midwife was absolutely fantastic! It never fails to amaze me. The whole Nora and Bill Harding storyline was an eye opener for me. I’m only 14 years old, and thought my mum had it bad with me as a baby. But at least we had a suitable home, food on the table, and money to spend. And for 13 years, I was an only child, so my mum did not have to worry about having to feed loads of people. But having 8 children, another on the way, appalling housing conditions, and no money or food, life must have been hard for mothers in the 50’s. It was intriguing to see the drastic measures Nora took to save her family form more debt. Although, it was a bit gruesome, it was interesting. And it was nice to know that Nora survived septicaemia. As ever, I was on the edge of my seat whenever Sister Bernadette and Dr Turner came on screen together. It’s forbidden love. When Dr Turner kissed Sister Bernadette’s hand though, it gave me butterflies in my stomach. Awh. I throughly enjoyed the cubs and Fred in the show. I could not stop laughing at Fred riding a hobby horse. Jake Bailey who plays Jack, and Max Macmillan who plays Timothy, are brilliant young actors. They make me wish I was a kid in the fifties. They always seem to cheer me up, after a sad scene in the show. The cubs are a great edition to the show. And they performed the story of Robin Hood, which is a very important story to me. I come from Nottingham originally, so it was nice to see aspects of the story in the show. The play at the summer fete was the cutest thing since Chummy and Peter’s wedding in Series 1. One thing that did break my heart was Trixie, who got let down massively by Clifford Raines. I felt really bad for her. Helen George conveyed the role beautifully. I am very much looking forward to next weeks episode, as they dig deeply into the cause of Tuberculosis, disease and the X-Ray. Also looking forward to seeing more of the Sister Bernadette/Dr Turner storyline. Stephen McGann and Laura Main are brilliant as those characters. I also would like to see the cub pack some more, as they are all adorable! Definitely looking forward to Chummy and Peter returning in episode 7. Really loved the episode! Heidi Thomas has made such a non popular subject, and made it into a phenomenon. Great work to every single person involved! I may only be 14, but I appreciate how this show does not shy away from the tremors of the fifties. Fabulous!

    Follow me on Twitter: Kennedylol6

  5. Hilary Murray M.A. says:

    As a medical ethicist, I am familiar with the arguments surrounding the main storyline of Episode 5 of ‘Call the Midwife”. Hitherto, one of the great strengths of the series has been the pretty realistic depiction of childbirth in all sorts of situations but this objectivity seems to have deserted the programme makers, with the result that the premature delivery brought on by the abortionist is tidied away as a cloth with a few drops of blood on it. At 17 weeks, you would have a fully formed baby, smaller and redder, but obviously a little boy or girl. The lungs may not be mature enough to have expanded but you may well get a moving baby, heart visibly beating through the chest wall, taking gasps. Come on, programme makers. Being gritty and realistic in one area but not another seems to imply political manipulation in a highly sensitive but necessary to discuss realistically situation. Is this the case?
    In addition, Nonatus House is a Catholic establishment. Where was the suggestion of adoption or Natural Family Planning (Fertility Awareness) commonly used to space children, with expert tuition freely available and supported in the imminent papal document, Humanae Vitae, as not commodifying women but placing equal power over their own fertility in their own hands? The apparent promotion of the contraceptive pill seems unbalanced by professional awareness of the link between it’s use and thrombosis, which still claims the lives of tens of ‘healthy’ women annually. It is a pity that the simplicity which is a strength of the programme now seems to be being undermined by agendas which would not have been foremost at the time. (I have six children of my own and have never been well off in financial terms.)

  6. Jem says:

    A little too much for a pre watershed show. It left me a little uncomfortable, and I don’t think I’ll watch it with my family again.