New Review: Call the Midwife

// 22 June 2012

Call the Midwife, a historical drama about childbirth set in 1950s London, was an unexpected ratings smash last winter. It’s currently being repeated on Thursdays on BBC1. Emily Kenway examines its success as a mainstream drama with an, almost exclusively, female cast.

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“Midwifery is the stuff of life” Vanessa Redgrave’s worldly-wise voice intones as a young woman cycles through the backstreets of London. This is Jenny Lee and she is on her way to Nonatus House where she will live with a small group of nuns and midwives, administering to the colourful East End poor of 1950s London.

Jennifer Worth’s trilogy of memoirs, beginning with Call the Midwife, have sold almost a million copies in the UK since they were published in 2002. Worth herself was an interesting woman (she died in May last year); after midwifery and a stint as a ward sister, she left the medical profession and taught music for twenty five years, singing in choirs across Europe. As if that wasn’t quite enough achievement for one lifetime, she then turned her hand to writing and produced these three highly acclaimed memoirs.

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Comments From You

Steve // Posted 22 June 2012 at 10:43 am

Thanks for this – a really interesting read. I’m an actor playing one of the peripheral parts in the series, and I think you get absolutely its central values – that of women’s experience, and the socio-historical cost of living, loving and mothering at that time.

The series does a number of interesting things for me. It lulls the viewer into a world that, at first, seems comfortable and cosy. But then through this vehicle it delivers some surprisingly visceral experiences. For instance, in the first series it covered issues such as prostitution, advanced Syphilis, incest and child snatching. Yet, most importantly, it reclaims a universal human experience for the women who experience it. This is its dramatic heart, and it is a female one. The astounding success of the series in schedules dominated by dramas with a strong male sensibility tell me that there is both need and demand for drama which takes a woman’s perspective at its core.

The production itself is notably well served with women’s voices and views – the writer, director, producer, advisor, designer and many of the staff are women. This – in my view – is a real strength.

As a man, I am delighted and honoured to be a part of this production. It is quite beautiful to film. Every sincere actor wants to participate in the dramatisation of all human experience. There can be no more central experience than the drama of birth – and the women who have always been central to it.

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