When all presents are opened, dinner has been served, and you’ve exhausted all the Christmas games, you want nothing more than to sit in front of the tv and watch one of the many specials broadcast at this time of year. The eclectic mix of programmes is enough to make you go mad and find yourself in the middle of another family argument. If you’re lucky, your choice of programme is the one that gets watched at its time of broadcast, but if not, you have to wait your turn and pray to God that it is still on record or that channel’s version of IPlayer by the time you get to it.
I’m lucky that my family all tend to watch the same thing at Christmas, although I might curse and sigh in desperation if it is a Premier League Football match! And thank goodness the lack of my sister meant no forced watching of the overly-dramatic, mixed-up, and brain-numbing Eastenders!
The East End of London in 1962 is much more to my liking and it was there with Call the Midwife where I spent the last few hours of Christmas Day.
Nonnatus House is always ready for the challenges that life in Poplar brings and Christmas is no exception. This year, the nuns and nurses battle adverse weather conditions to deal with milk-deprived mothers, abusive relationships, and one particular birth that doesn’t go quite according to plan. Alongside some personal trials and comedic contretemps with a particularly bitter police sergeant, this is one Christmas special that is in-keeping with the common and well-loved themes of Call the Midwife.
I have seen quite a few comments and reviews from people saying that it wasn’t in the Christmas nature of Call the Midwife to tackle such hard-hitting topics, but I believe it is is not Call the Midwife otherwise. They’re in the early 1960s, in the poorest borough of London, where reliable services are scarce, and the lives are real! It’s also not the first time they’ve dealt with the topic of abuse – there’s Molly Brignall in series 2 and Trudy Watts in series 6! The same can be said for stillbirths (predicted or otherwise) – Conchita Warren in series 1 and Abigail Bissette in series 4. To me, this episode was an everyday episode that just so happened to be set at Christmas. I was taken aback by the harshness at first, but I’ve come to expect this and it has made me all the more conscious of the themes the show might tackle.
In this same vein, the episode managed to retain the balance between grittiness and brevity. That’s hard to achieve at the best of times so it is a testament to Heidi Thomas’s writing and the amazing cast that the transitions between the two are seamlessly smooth. To end with a pantomime and seeing Fred decked out in costume after experiencing those stories firmly implants the theme of community and it reminds us of the goodness and happiness it brings, especially at Christmas! I’ve even watched the episode a few times now just to revisit Nurse Crane’s exchanges with the bitter and snarky Sergeant Woolf and I laughed every time!
What I also liked is that all the Nonnatus characters (minus Patsy and Delia) had their moment, even if they didn’t share the same amount of screen time. It’s episodes like these where I’m always impressed by the quality of the cast because Heidi Thomas can give them different roles to suit the storylines, and I never tire of seeing the different challenges they all face. However, I was a little irritated by the lack of reference to Patsy and Delia. I know from cast interviews and articles that the both Emerald Fennell and Kate Lamb have left the show but their absence wasn’t explained. I wouldn’t have minded but Nurse Crane referenced Sister Evangelina in a passing comment and she passed away at the end of series 5! I’m hoping that something is said in the upcoming series as it would be nice to know their ending, and I can’t bear to witness the decline in the show’s continuity when it has always been exceptional. To an extent, the same could be said for Cynthia/Sister Mary Cynthia too. I’ll be sad to not see her return as a regular cast member but at least I have some consolation knowing that she willingly moved out of Nonnatus House before the airing of this episode and was somewhere else for a valid reason.
Keeping on the topic of characters, I loved that we got to see Reggie again! It was lovely to see Nurse Crane take him under her wing and make him feel included in the community. I hope this implies that we’ll see more of him because he does look at home with Fred, Violet and everyone at Nonnatus.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the cast of secondary characters was excellent. Anita Dobson did an amazing job of portraying Mrs Tillerson and I was impressed by her realism. It only took a few lines of dialogue for me to suspect some dark undertones to her character and whilst you could say that is a sign of predictability, I think it comes from knowing Call the Midwife and increasingly understanding that life in the East End of London was not without its darkness and cruelty. This juxtaposes quite nicely with Sergeant Woolf whose strictness and superiority brought a lightness to proceedings as well as firmly implanting Nurse Crane’s role as a mentor and guide in the wider Poplar community. I also don’t want to forget the characters of Linda and Selwyn who remind me of many other Poplar residents, just getting on and dealing with what life throws at them.
To sum it up, this Christmas episode of Call the Midwife was everything I wanted it to be – great characters, touching and hard-hitting storylines, Christmas magic, and everlasting messages and lessons. It further implants the series as one of my all-time favourites and I can’t wait to see what the new series will bring.
Not too long to wait now!
Did you watch the Christmas special?
What did you think of it?
Thanks for reading and have a brazzle dazzle day!