Review: Call the Midwife (Series 6, Episode 1)

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60%
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Hard-Hitting

A dynamic episode, covering several difficult issues with honesty and tact, whilst retaining the overall feel-good atmosphere of the show.

  • 6

Every year, after its annual Christmas special, Call the Midwife fans are left eagerly awaiting a new series. Well, it’s finally here, and so far, it seems to be following in the footsteps of the past five outings. There are a few notable absences in the cast, notably the fun-loving Trixie (Helen George), who has been left behind in Africa for two months, but as one of the show’s most loved characters, her return seems likely. Two other significant absentees are Chummy, played by Miranda Hart, who dropped out of the series’ filming at the last minute (though her husband, Constable Noakes is still around), and Pam Ferris’ Sister Evangelina, who died in the final episode of Series 5.

The first episode of Series 6 began with the heartwarming return of an imprisoned husband to his heavily pregnant wife, which was then aggressively contrasted with a harrowing tale of domestic abuse. The incredibly hard-hitting storyline has left viewers shocked, and flooded the BBC with complaints over scenes of violence and explicit swearing air before the 9pm watershed. This is the first episode that has featured domestic violence so explicitly, with scenes of Lester burning his heavily pregnant wife with a cigarette, throwing her to the ground, and regularly calling his young son a ‘bastard’. Of course, this is not the first time Call the Midwife has addressed topical issues; this year’s Christmas special told a story of struggling healthcare for impoverished Africa, and previously the show has addressed racism, misogyny and a host of other discrimination. Mrs Watts’ (Pearl Appleby) story creates not only a heavily emotional episode, but gives an impressive insight to the struggles that battered wives go through trying to escape their abusers. The writers, as usual, have tackled the issues expertly. Trudy’s decisions show a carefully written episode that lives up to expectations of a difficult topic; but with the usual heartwarming ending.

The episode has raised eyebrows for a few reasons; the first was the abrupt, and entirely unexplained demotion of Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter), who has reigned over Nonnatus House since Season 1. The call came from the ever-elusive, but usually respected ‘Mother House’, which has often taken in any Sisters needing a break. Her unexplained replacement is the slightly stiff and cold Sister Ursula (Dame Harriet Walter), who is already shaking things up at Nonnatus with the banishment of anything considered ‘self-indulgent’. Sister Julienne will no doubt be facing a moral dilemma in the coming episodes.

Even more confusing than Sister Julienne’s sudden demotion is the lack of continuity from Series 5. The show has now entered the 1960s–1962 specifically–with the final episode of the last season centred mainly on the 1962 Thalidomide disaster. The powerful, biographical story arc built throughout the previous series, with two deformed babies featured in the show, and a huge number more alluded to. Viewers were left on somewhat of a cliffhanger as the disaster was overshadowed by Sister Evangelina’s funeral, with no allusions to the number of babies affected, and Dr Turner (Stephen McGann) racked with guilt, questioning how he allowed this to happen. It is slightly disappointing that there is not a single mention of the disaster in this episode. Instead, Dr Turner and his (slightly gushing) wife Shelagh (Laura Main) celebrate their pregnancy, and revel in their now joyous family life.

Despite this, the episode did deliver on many fronts. The clandestine relationship between Patsy (Emerald Fennell) and Delia (Kate Lamb) continues to bubble, bound to become a bigger issue as the series continues; and Sister Mary Cynthia’s (Bryony Hannah) struggles after her attack last season are brought to light. Overall, the episode was a good beginning to Series 5, tackling a modern and historical issue expertly, exposing the gravitas of the issue, but still managing to finish on the usual feel-good note.

Call the Midwife continues next Sunday at 8pm on BBC One.

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