Call the Midwife, Series One (2012)



 
Anything based on a memoir or a “true story” is usually something worth sitting up, and paying attention to. I had higher expectations for this series than even I realized, some of those expectations paid off. During its six-episode run, there were poignant delights but did they outweigh the disappointments?
 
Side-stepping love and a normal life, Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) decides to put her nursing career to a good purpose. She becomes certified in midwifery, and agrees to a position working with a clinic in the lower east side. She arrives at the small convent, Nonnatus House where the nuns provide free clinics and make house calls to expectant mothers. Efficiently run by sister Julienne (Janny Agutter), Jenny is unprepared for the challenges of this job.

Barely settled in, she learns to adjust to midnight calls and the peculiar personality of Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt), who rattles off quotes at the drop of a hat but never makes sense but finds confidents and friendship in her fellow co-workers, Trixie and Cynthia (Helen George, Bryony Hannah). The first delivery Jenny attends alone opens her eyes to the ignorance and depravity of her patients – living situations that could be dangerous for the arrival of a newborn. Meanwhile newcomer Camilla “Chummy” Browne (Miranda Hart) joins the girl’s as a certified midwife and shakes up the household with her cheerful outlook even as Jenny’s own past – one she is trying to forget begins to find her again.
 
Distancing itself from Jane Austen-esque era period pieces is a small way that the BBC seems to be re-inventing itself – it’s a decision that made me initially sad but seems a wise move in retrospect (how many re-makes of Austen adaptations can there be, even as good as they are!?) and has in fact, produced a series of fabulous productions. Based on the gritty memoir of Jennifer Worth and her own experiences as a midwife in the 1950’s, this series was born, adapted by the talented Heidi Thomas, a name familiar to any fan of British drama (Upstairs, Downstairs, Ballet Shoes). It wouldn’t be honest of me to say that this production is for everyone, because it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea; where something like Ballet Shoes is a wonderful deception of family bonds and finding one’s identity, Call the Midwife is more of a dark, gritty piece of realistic life in the 1950’s London streets. 
 
It took more than one episode for the show to endear itself. The premiere was “tense” and forgot to take the time to ease its audience into getting to know all the characters and find its own footing with its viewers. Instead, we are immediately swept into the whirlwind of Jenny’s new life right along with her as she attends patients and accompanies her fellow midwives on calls. Never is there invitation into her character or past – and even by the end though our curiosity is piqued in one way, we still know little about Jenny or any character. Once the audience enters the third hour, writers have finally learned to pace themselves better, in spite of the added pull that a back-story inspires; we have fallen for each of them. From Trixie’s flirty, fun-loving personality to the stern nature of Sister Monica Jean or the genuine, earnest suit of Jenny’s childhood friend, Jimmy, each of the supporting and leading cast is fabulous. Included in that cast is the voice of British great, Vanessa Redgrave and Ben Caplan as a smitten constable.

Even in the nature of the show, there are glimmers that delight fans and surprise us in equal measures. Once past the opening and when I knew what to expect of the series, I become increasingly drawn into its premise and stories. It was appalling to think that people lived in such squander – that they didn’t want to better their lives because they assumed that living as they did was not harmful to their lives. Jenny is an empathetic if not quiet leading character and the young actress shoulders that responsibility well while Chummy is the biggest surprise of all. She is the one that gets an adorable love story – and it wraps up in the best possible way. If potential viewers go into this knowing it’s not the usual British fare, you may surprise yourself in realizing how entertaining this can be. It has heart and seems to recognize its error in focusing strictly on new life but also the tragedy at the last breath, and everything that happens in the chasm between in this thing called life.
 
(Parental concerns: Every episode has at least one scene of childbirth [episode one has two or three]; some more “graphic” than the others [including one visual, prolonged breech birth]. Various themes are dealt with including prostitution [a girl is seen half-dressed lying in bed demanding full payment, she also recounts her “first time”]. Implications reveal that a woman engaged in an affair with a married man, another woman suggests she is no longer a virgin leading up to her wedding. There’s a troubling case involving incest and out-of-wedlock children in addition to various childbirth complications. A demonstration on birth control involves the use of condemns.)
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Rissi
18 Comments

18 comments:

  1. I might have to check this out. Not really my kind of show, but I might give it a try.

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    1. British dramas are AWESOME! I love nearly each one I've seen but this is really different from the norm. It's "gritty" in ways that British drama usually isn't save for perhaps Charles Dickens. That being said, it was still very good.

      Hope you enjoy if you see it, Jack. :)

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  2. I have this show already ordered from Amazon, although sadly it's on back-order until January. But I can't wait until it gets here! Thanks for the review!

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    1. Oh, noes! That's no fun, Kellie - I like it when I get fun, "guilty pleasure" things like that to enjoy over the holidays. (I say they're the gifts I buy for myself. :D) Hope it comes in before that. You could also purchase it from a seller - mine came from Amazon but I think I'd had it pre-ordered so it was probably one of the first "batches."

      Hope you enjoy - let me know what you think!

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  3. I didn't even know about this show! I think I am going to have to check it out :)

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    1. Hey, there, Alycia!

      This was one of BBC's more interesting, "intense" shows. Hope you enjoy it. :)

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  4. Just watched this the other day. I finished feeling conflicted by it.

    There were parts I just adored, and the "interesting" factor was super high. I just finished nursing school, and learning how medicine has grown over the past 100 years is fascinating to me. Watching "Chummy" deliver the breech baby made me want to cheer.

    However, as the series went on, I wanted so much to love it, but became discouraged. I understand it is a memoir, and all truth isn't beautiful. "Gritty" is the correct word to describe it. But I just couldn't shake the nausea in my stomach after the "brother-sister" story, and it just felt like every episode had something a bit worse than the last.

    In the end, I thought, "Well, I watched it, and I enjoyed some of it, but I'm pretty sure I won't watch any second series."

    Good to hear your thoughts on it! Not many seem to know much about it yet, as it is so new.

    By the way, how do you watch your films? You seem to see most everything (even the hard to find stuff). Do you use Netflix, or BBC America, or?

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    1. Your opening sentence in a nutshell sums up my opinions, Camille.

      As the series progressed, I admired much about it once I knew how everything would play out. The characters are compelling but not the stories in every instance. (Knowing you are a nurse makes sense that you'd be able to relate - I'm not a medical person so I don't always "enjoy" dramas that get too intense that way.) I liked Chummy a great deal and am intrigued by what Jenny's story really is. Also I wish we knew more about her fellow midwives.

      The whole brother-sister plot was disturbing. Who write's things like that!? It's... bothersome in more ways that one. You have an excellent perspective on this series - I like what you say about all truth not being beautiful. That is so right: It's not. Call me a softy but generally I do like my entertainment to be happy. :) We live every day in truth that's not always a bed of roses. That cannot be argued.

      I'll watch the second series but don't know beyond that as its already being touted as being "darker" than the first. *Sigh* What could that mean?!

      All right, I'll just confess: My weakness is British drama and DVD's in general, so... I buy them. No I don't use any type of rental service though I did watch a couple of episodes of BBC's newest jewels on line. However, until then, I purchased what series I was interested in - through one of Amazon's branches.

      Glad you stopped in, Camille! :)

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    2. Ohhh, that's too bad they are advertising it as "darker" . . . sniff. If you see it, tell me how it is. I know about buying movies. Since I started using Netflix, there almost seems to be no point to buying movies anymore, but I still love to "own" them. I dunno . . . probably always will.

      Thanks for always being so welcoming, it always brings a smile to my face!

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    3. In all likelihood, I will see the second series, Camille - and will be glad to let you know what I thought. If it progressively gets "worse," I may stop watching it but as it stands now, I liked it well enough to watch the second set.

      Thank you for visiting my blog! I really appreciate all your comments and opinions! :)

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  5. I LOVE the new header, it's gorgeous. How did you make it?!
    Juliet

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    1. Thank you, Juliet - as I've said before: It shouldn't be that much fun! :)

      It's made in a digital studio program my parents bought me as a gift a while back. Recently the company (Stampin' Up!) just upgraded it and it's even more awesome plus I've learned how to use it better. Parts of it were done in the free editing service, Pic Monkey also - like the font. Hope this answers your question. :)

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  6. I've heard some good things about this show...I'll look forward to seeing it someday!

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    1. Hope you enjoy it, Charity - I'd enjoy know what your conclusions are. :)

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  7. Watched all 6 episodes in one afternoon. :) I really LOVED it, minus the brother/sister story-line in Ep. 5, the fact that Chummy was "not eligible" to wear white at her wedding and Jenny's back story that was alluded to. Other than those three things, I loved it and don't regret having bought it sight-unseen. Hopefully Jenny will see how amazing Jimmy is in the next season. :) I'm becoming quite the British tv fan myself here lately, can't get enough of those accents. ;)

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    1. Wow! Talk about marathon-ing, Kellie. LOL! Love that you did that: My family still remembers when we first saw 'Horatio' (A&E) - we couldn't stop watching it! Some things deserve that much attention.

      There were some disappointments - mainly in the brother-sister story. Ugh! That was gross. Other than that, I could live with everything else. I loved Jimmy - thought he was just adorable and so good to Jenny. It's sad that she is fixated on a married man (or that is my assumption). She doesn't have to be nor should she be. Hopefully S2 will see her getting her priorities straight!

      Super glad you shared your conclusions - in spite of everything I'm looking forward to S2 this spring. :)

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  8. I saw the complete series one at the library the other day and took a chance on it. Oh. My. Word. I was enamored with the show by the end of episode one. My sisters and I could hardly watch *just* one episode at the time. Sister Monica Joan is so crazy! :-)

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    1. Rosie, yay! I'm so glad you and your sisters are enjoying. Someday I must revisit the series from the beginning - especially now as I'm going to be watching S3 soon! Makes me feel nostalgic about its origins.

      Sister Monica Joan is a VERY fun character. ;)

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