sun 21/07/2024

Call The Midwife Christmas Special, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Call The Midwife Christmas Special, BBC One

Call The Midwife Christmas Special, BBC One

Our heroines return to battle poverty and squalor in the 1950s East End

Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) with Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris)

You have to wonder whether blood, squalor, flea infestations, DIY childbirth and urine-soaked tenements are really the perfect family viewing elixir for 7.30pm on Christmas Day, but the BBC has obviously decided that it's good for us. Or, considering that the ornate and crenellated shadow of Downton looms so large over the festivities, maybe they felt they had no choice but to deploy the Midwife weapon, the Beeb's biggest drama hit in a decade. 

If you could keep your lunch from launching itself across the carpet - the woman having her baby's head extracted from between her legs while she straddled the communal toilet in a block of decaying East End flats nearly did it for me, I must admit - this was a robustly built and sometimes tear-jerking story which picked up seamlessly from the first series. The cast have bedded in so comfortably that this didn't feel like a Christmas one-off, and in between the high moral seriousness of Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) and the hockey-sticks jollity of Chummy Noakes (Miranda Hart, pictured below), writer Heidi Thomas found space to strike a wide range of tones.

The Nonnatus House nuns continued to shine, not least Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris), who put on a startling display of musical farting. Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) is becoming a more competent midwife but she can't shake off that permanently troubled expression. On the other hand Helen George's Trixie Franklin, the pert blonde one, never seems particularly concerned about anything, and always looks ready for a riotous night up west. PC Noakes, Chummy's husband (Ben Caplan), epitomises the popular myth of the cheerful community copper that people apparently believed in back in the late Fifties (we know he would never falsify his logbook, for example), and Dr Turner (Stephen McGann) fits in nicely as the caring medic who would never turn away a patient.

Certainly this isn't a cliché-free zone, but the thing has soul and Thomas had packed in some strong plotlines. Chummy's preparations for the nativity play, as she tried to find props and costumes for the largely penniless local kids and had to surmount various disasters, provided some running light relief (in fact recruiting Hart to the cast was the best decision they made). Then there was the tale of a girl called Lynette, who'd got herself knocked up on an outing to Margate, and didn't dare tell her parents about her condition.

She was reduced to having the baby alone in the dark, filthy room which was also home to Mrs Jenkins, a half-crazed derelict destroyed by her years in the workhouse (pictured left, played by Sheila Reid). The way the the nuns and midwives brought about a reconciliation between Lynette and her parents, and how Jenny ferreted out the history of Mrs Jenkins and her five children who'd died in the workhouse (one of them was said to have "failed to thrive"), provided most of the Kleenex-drenching moments, especially the scene where Mrs Jenkins knelt down on the patch of common graveyard beneath which lay her daughter Rosie.

As ever, I could have done without Vanessa Redgrave's quavering voiceover, and her concluding homily about love and faith felt particularly at odds with some of the horrors we'd witnessed. Like everybody else, I daresay, I flicked over to Downton with a sigh of relief.  

PC Noakes, Chummy's husband, epitomises the popular myth of the community copper that people apparently believed in back in the Fifties

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Britain is not made up of wealthy dukes and duchesses living in stately homes, a place of decorum and high morals. It is a place populated with ordinary people who in the past were subjected to a cruel and humiliating life, if they were unfortunate enough to be poor. It is easy to get mixed up in the fuss and gluttony that this season has become but Midwives chose to not completely gloss over poverty. The petty lives of the so-called nobility are quite frankly boring and for most little more than a fairy tale. I would rather see a little realism at a time when a reality check is often needed. Also I hate the callous attitude in the line 'got herself knocked up' she was a child who clearly lived a sheltered life, try and have some compassion.

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