Call the Midwife: Episode 1
May 21, 2014 4:11 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

The opening of the show introduces it's major characters, sets the historical scene in post-war England, and establishes a tone of woman-centered, bike-powered, socialist-minded tear jerking melodrama and adventure. What's not to love?!
posted by latkes (57 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know about you, but this show seems to have been designed to push all my buttons in the best way. Even though it opens with a bit of a trope of the clueless middle class young lady being confronted by the Harsh Realities, Jessica Raine plays that clueless young lady with total conviction and I felt carried along by her story. The potentially one note characters (Pam Ferris's dour nun for one) are interesting and I can trust they will get deeper with time.

I'm very curious how more political/progressive Brits feel about this show: Total maudlin pap? For me though as a North American easily sucked into nostalgia and idealism, I just love it. Seems like an hour long ad for Socialism, feminism and bike riding, and I'm totally drinking the cool aid.

I can think of few rivals for women's roles in television - maybe Orange is the New Black, but I think this is better.
posted by latkes at 4:17 PM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeaaaaaaah! Thanks for making a FanFare for this!

One thing I'll say about Jessica Raines as the "clueless middle class girl" is that it gets a touch one-note by the time you get out to season 3. But since we're starting this from scratch, we have a ways to go before it starts getting tedious.

Sister Evangelina gets much more interesting as the series goes on, especially in the latest episodes.

Another general observation that I'm curious about in terms of how the show is seen in Britain: it reads as very religious, from my standpoint as a secular American. I'm not sure if this is because the only TV shows in the US that ever mention religion are mawkish Seventh Heaven type shows that all seem to have a particular agenda, though. But then there are days I watch this and also My Mad Fat Diary on the same day and feel like Call The Midwife probably is the UK take on Seventh Heaven, and maybe it is pablum with a particular spiritual agenda.

I would really, really like to see the show add a new midwife who is either working class or non-white. Maybe someone who is actually from the East End herself? Is there a particular reason that all the midwives are from privileged backgrounds, coming into the neighborhood to practice, rather than having midwives from the community itself?

I feel like I should say a token thing about this specific episode, but nothing comes to mind. I'm still vaguely horrified by the idea that someone would move to the UK from Spain, marry a British guy, have umpteen children all going through the British school system, and never learn any English. But yeah, sure. I guess?
posted by Sara C. at 5:21 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sara C: "Maybe someone who is actually from the East End herself?"

We call that one Sister Evangelina.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:24 PM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't think she's originally from there, though. It's mentioned that she's from a lower class background, but I think she might not actually be from the East End. Also, her identity is primarily that of a nun.

It seems weird to me that the nun characters are all pretty distinctive (the mentor, the street smart one, the old/wacky one, the young one), while the midwife characters, with the exception of someone I won't mention because she hasn't arrived on the scene as of this episode, are all basically "cute young middle class women with no other distinguishing characteristics". I mean, Cynthia is... mousy? That is literally the only character note aside from this one being a blond and that one being a brunette.

Also I hereby request more Cynthia character development. I always feel so sad for her; she never gets to do anything good.
posted by Sara C. at 5:32 PM on May 21, 2014


Another general observation that I'm curious about in terms of how the show is seen in Britain: it reads as very religious, from my standpoint as a secular American.

This actually stood out to me too, particularly in the Christmas special. But I genuinely appreciate how religious it is, because it reads as very deeply Christian to me, but not in the ridiculous Seventh Heaven or Touched by Angel sort of way which is all about being feel good pap. Call the Midwife seems to be thoughtfully, deeply Christian in a more show-don't-tell way. The entire show is about walking the walk rather than just talking the talk. It's refreshing. I'm not Christian, but I love the ways in which Call the Midwife is a religious show.

I don't know, I fully concede that the show is kind of maudlin and a bit over the top, and I wonder how much of it is a rose-tinted glasses view of the time and place, but there's such a lack of TV out there that's about kindness. This show is an oasis of comfort in a TV landscape that's full of disposable procedurals, grimdark antiheroes, and interpersonal melodrama.
posted by yasaman at 5:56 PM on May 21, 2014 [8 favorites]


It also seems like a literal commercial for the NHS. Not that that's a bad thing. But there's so much "And thanks to the NHS, you get all of this for free!" It seems so otherworldly from here in the US. I wonder about what the situation was like for the nuns before the NHS-funded nurses showed up, and how someone made this happen politically, it must have seemed like a miracle.
posted by bleep at 6:05 PM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]


That's a really good point. Sister Monica Joan would've been practicing back at the turn of the century, or around WW1 at least. What was that life like?
posted by Sara C. at 6:12 PM on May 21, 2014


ALSO WTF IS BABYCHAM? I'm not sure if the first reference to it is actually in the pilot episode, but it's omnipresent in the series and I MUST KNOW.
posted by Sara C. at 6:13 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Babycham?

I hadn't noticed the reference yet, nor had I heard of the stuff! Sounds less than delightful, kind of the Zima of it's time?
posted by latkes at 7:20 PM on May 21, 2014


I would really, really like to see the show add a new midwife who is either working class or non-white.

But to me it seems authentic that the midwives would come from more middle class and white backgrounds, but I don't know. Any British medical historical anthropologists in the house to answer this one?
posted by latkes at 7:22 PM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's odd that it seemed "very religious" to some while I think of it as being, I guess, pragmatic or functional Christianity while we are looking at nuns (maybe because they're Anglican?) but then working orders of nuns were pragmatic Christianity in helping those in need without a cloistered remove to be judgmental about the world, but who knows how realistic it is, even based on a memoir. I remember reading that Mother Theresa could be vile and I could relay some intensely disturbing stories of alcoholic parochial school nuns, not to mention this nun asylum I once lived near, while my closest regular contact with any were young hippie nuns with guitars in Brooklyn. Besides their current rarity, nuns are pretty different, but this lot is so accepting, and that only rings true because of the dire circumstances.

I think the East End at the time was pretty much slums and devastation, which is why it's in such need of help. If someone could be educated, then they wouldn't be there and there wasn't much in the way of integration. The nuns have been around, and so, somewhat, have the girls but this is the 50s.

From what I have heard of a British response, the two big things are from people who remember that era and find it very accurate and I think all the babies are people's loaner babies..? I don't know what to call it, non-actor babies? (Because they're obviously real babies.) I think some paper runs a regular write up on the family and each new baby who is guest starring in the show.

I wonder if the lead got the job from her episode of Doctor Who, where she's pretty much the same but in the 60s (?) The blond is clearly the modern sassy one. The mixture of the horrifying and naive is interesting, but I'm all caught up and happy to wait for the Christmas Special before watching any more screaming births. Give me the gas and air! I'll settle for a BabyCham.
posted by provoliminal at 11:28 PM on May 21, 2014


Love this show and thought you might be interested to know its based on a popular memoir by Jennifer Worth.
posted by chapps at 12:42 AM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sister Evangelina is played by Pam Ferris who is the absolutely awesome Laura Thyme of Rosemary & Thyme, available in all three seasons on Netflix where she gardens and solves murders.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:04 AM on May 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


A few thoughts:
- These nuns are so *nice* (even Sr. Evangelina) compared to my high school nuns.
- Weird to see Jenny Agutter in a nun's habit. I still associate her with Logan's Run.
- This is a rough show to watch if you 1) are already prone to having your emotional buttons pushed and 2) just had a baby. That being said, I burned through all three seasons of this show like it was my mission in life, repeatedly asking myself "Why am I watching this???" through tears.
posted by medeine at 9:28 AM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


medeine: "That being said, I burned through all three seasons of this show like it was my mission in life, repeatedly asking myself "Why am I watching this???" through tears."

I also binged right through it, including watching episodes in the afternoon during "quiet rest time" when my preschooler was playing Legos. I got so wrapped up in a tense and grahpic birth scene that I didn't notice that my preschooler had heard the noise and come over to hang over my shoulder and watch what was on my screen. When the scene ended and I realized he was there, I turned to him and I was like, "So .... do you have any questions about what you just saw?" D'oh!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:04 AM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I watched this show from the beginning of its airing on PBS here in the US, and I love it. I somehow got behind, though, and therefore this Sunday I spent four pleasant hours catching up (almost: I still haven't seen the latest episode, which I'm saving for tomorrow).

While some people might think of it as pablum, I think it does a pretty good job--better than most American tv anyway--at dealing with class and poverty issues. It shows the dire conditions some of these women are dealing with, and the choices they are forced to make, but with a lot of clear-eyed sympathy.

And yes, a love letter to the NHS. How wonderful it would be if the US had a service where pregnant women would be visited by skilled nurses and prepared for their upcoming labor at no cost to the women.
posted by suelac at 10:23 AM on May 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


I want to clarify that I don't think the show is pablum with a religious agenda, at all!

I just wonder if that's how it's seen in the UK, which AFAIK doesn't have a past of shows like Seventh Heaven and Touched By An Angel to point and laugh at.

I wonder similar things when I fall into a Vicar Of Dibley hole on Netflix. On the one hand DAWN FRENCH 4 LYFE. On the other hand, does this mean I'm still an Episcopalian at heart?

Getting back to Call The Midwife, I do sometimes feel like the extended sequences where laboring women are intercut with the nuns singing compline is kind of heavy handed. In the best way, of course.
posted by Sara C. at 10:31 AM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


repeatedly asking myself "Why am I watching this???" through tears.

OMG, I've only watched 4 or 5 episodes so far but Every Single One has made me cry heartily. I used to apprentice with homebirth midwives and I currently work as a nurse, primarily with a clientele experiencing poverty, so I know the ways this touches my personal buttons are personal, but I keep hearing from friends that they also cried through most episodes, so I guess it's not just me.

I got so wrapped up in a tense and grahpic birth scene that I didn't notice that my preschooler had heard the noise and come over to hang over my shoulder

Twice my fairly sophisticated 11 year old daughter tried to watch with me and both times I eventually kicked her out of the room due to upsetting adult content, which made me realize the show is a harsher and more intense than I was conscious of.
posted by latkes at 3:36 PM on May 22, 2014


I watched the first season while home sick and cried heartily through every episode, and not due to my miserable feverish aching. I watched the second season while reasonable healthy and cried just as much. The sense of sisterhood, of women being kind and generous and supportive of one another, and families reconciling and falling apart, gets me every time. Aaaand I'm not even wild about babies. (My mom didn't believe me when I recommended it to her. "Midwives? You watched a show about midwives?!")
posted by esoterrica at 4:40 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I liked the characters but I ended up bailing before the end of the first season, because I started to get creeped out by how every single woman wanted every child. Abortion was only the sort of thing sick pimps forced on girls, not something secretly sought by desperate women. Birth control was some far off prospect instead of something that was being actively used by most non-catholic couples in the UK in the 1950s (in the form of condoms.) No matter how old, how young, how slatternly or over-provided with children, there was never a woman who wanted to *not* have the child, every time. Oh, sure, they might be a little embarrassed at the evidence that they were still having sex with their husband when their own children were old enough to be married, they might yell about not wanting them when delivering, but not after.

It very much felt like a whitewashing of the past to some sort of Catholic paradise, the erasure a whole set of voices on the subject of women's choices and oppressions in the 1950s.
posted by tavella at 4:41 PM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


The vast majority of all the pregnancies on the show are wanted pregnancies that happen within marriage in a population where it's taken for granted that getting married and having babies is just what you do. It's unfortunate, but my view is that it's part of the point of setting a show like this in the 50s as opposed to just making a modern day show about midwifery. The time before the birth control pill (and potentially legal abortion, I know the UK had it before the US did, but was it legal in the mid 50s?) really was a different time, and I think that's worth respecting. It would feel very anachronistic to have the show be mostly childfree types who didn't want kids.

That said, in three seasons there've been a few unintended pregnancies and we still haven't seen an abortion. Even if it's not legal or not a service that would be provided by midwives, by now we should have seen someone at least contemplate it.

Re "some kind of Catholic paradise", aside from the subplot with the Irish teen (and another, later, with an immigrant couple from Northern Ireland hint hint), it seems to me that there's barely a mention of Catholicism on the show. The nuns portrayed are Anglican nuns, and AFAIK the Anglican church didn't have a stance against either birth control or abortion in the 50s. (I grew up Episcopalian in the US in the 80s and by that time the Anglican Communion was firmly pro-choice.)

For that matter, isn't it easily checked exactly what birth rates were like in East London in the mid 50s? The number of children the women have seems excessive to me, but it never occurred to me that it wasn't evocative of reality.
posted by Sara C. at 5:40 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, exactly how would we be meeting all these couples who use birth control? It's a show about midwives. Why would people who decide not to get pregnant even be on the midwives' radar?

The show depicts a reasonably high number of childless couples and people who've chosen alternate paths beyond marriage and children, considering the subject matter. (The nuns and midwives themselves, first and foremost!)
posted by Sara C. at 5:48 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


For those of you concerned about the lack of discussion about abortion, at the risk of spoiling things: never fear, the issue gets raised.
posted by youcancallmeal at 5:52 PM on May 22, 2014


Sara C: If you've seen all the seasons....perhaps review the episode summaries?
posted by youcancallmeal at 5:53 PM on May 22, 2014


Condoms were expensive and required the husband's co-operation. Abortions were also expensive, and not yet available through the NHS. Abortion does come up later, and the cost is a crucial element.

The average family size in Poplar at that time according to the producer commenting in an article was eight children. So outliers of 25 were unusual, but possible. I know of two families of more than 20 children (over 15 living past infancy each) in Cambodia. And it is possible for her to have only spoken Spanish - her children were bilingual, and there would have been a few other immigrants she could speak to.

I wish they would do more about rickets and laundry because those two things have just vanished from our awareness and they were so so crucial back then. Rickets from lousy food and living in dark crowded slums, and then the immense daily grind of keeping laundry going in a communal tap with stairs. Gah. The workhouse episodes are particularly powerful because of the young nurses' reactions to them is all "you're kidding, that's not possible, you must be exaggerating" and the nuns who had seen them.

Daily mail has a lovely piece on the nuns who Worth worked with!
posted by viggorlijah at 5:58 PM on May 22, 2014


Yeah it's driving me crazy that I apparently just watched the episode about the abortion within the last month, and it's already drifted out of my mind. I'm clearly going to have to start rewatching each episode as we post FanFare threads!

Either way, just to avoid spoilers, I'll say that I googled the matter, and yes, abortion was illegal during the period Call The Midwife deals with. Which is probably why it's almost never discussed on the show, and the vast majority of women having children they don't want aren't considering not having the child. The nuns and midwives would not be administering abortions, and it's likely that women who'd had illegal abortions would want to stay off their radar.

It does surprise me the sheer number of accidental pregnancies there have been, especially people having babies in miserable circumstances where you'd think they'd have used some kind of birth control or considered an abortion. I won't spoil any of those details, but there's at least one episode where you have to wonder if a back alley abortion wouldn't have been a better idea.
posted by Sara C. at 6:00 PM on May 22, 2014


Tavella, quite a few episodes go around women who do not want to have children, and the nuns who have chosen to not have children and how that's a struggle for some and a straightforward decision for others. And there are some immigrants from I think Trinidad?

There's a direct discussion about contraception later in the series, but the cost is just - the pill didn't exist yet, and you have to rely on family planning, douches (don't work), or condoms that are expensive when families are struggling to feed themselves. The choices were very limited.

I would love to see them bring an Indian or Trinidadian nurse onto the cast. They were recruited strongly in a wave of post-war immigration so it's plausible, and it would be nice as the East End was such a mix. But in the time period, it's right at the start of that change of racial mix in the UK so it might not be for another series or two.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:05 PM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, nursing doesn't seem like such an exclusive field that there would only be women from wealthy backgrounds doing it. As recently as the 80s in the US, becoming an RN didn't require a bachelor's degree, and at least from my US perspective, it has often been seen as a more working class sort of job.
posted by Sara C. at 6:12 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's that it was such an exclusive field but that any education for women at all was still not the norm for that socio-economic, um, cohort.
posted by bleep at 6:54 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Come to think of it I don't think anybody was getting educated.
posted by bleep at 6:58 PM on May 22, 2014


viggorlijah: "I wish they would do more about rickets and laundry because those two things have just vanished from our awareness and they were so so crucial back then. Rickets from lousy food and living in dark crowded slums, and then the immense daily grind of keeping laundry going in a communal tap with stairs."

I think they at least touch on rickets; there is an episode later on with laundry as an issue. (A child is failing to thrive and the mother can't keep up with the laundry and people keep suggesting she's depressed/a bad mother and that's why the baby won't thrive, and she's insisting there's something wrong with the baby.) There are also a couple of episodes where they mention husbands doing/not doing nappy laundry and whether that's socially acceptable.

I think given that it's 6 or 7 episodes a season (and it's primarily a show about prenatal care and delivering babies), they manage to hit on QUITE A LOT.

Sara C.: "As recently as the 80s in the US, becoming an RN didn't require a bachelor's degree, and at least from my US perspective, it has often been seen as a more working class sort of job."

Most nurses of the era were from well-educated middle-class backgrounds. While education was universal in England and had been since a little before 1900, the school leaving age was 13 and only 5 years of schooling were required; the school leaving age wasn't raised to 15 until after WWII. Prior to 1944, secondary schools were not legally required to be open to girls or to working class children, and virtually all secondary schools in the UK had mandatory fees. Moreover, children were tracked into levels by age 11 and most poor children did not have the opportunity to pursue the sort of education that would enable them to undertake nursing. Nursing prior to WWII, in the US and the UK, was absolutely the province of (at least relatively) privileged women with educational opportunities.

Prior to Florence Nightengale, nurses were largely from impoverished backgrounds and were basically untrained, but with the introduction of professional training, nursing became a profession for the privileged and remained so until women began entering medical school in large numbers in recent decades, which enabled privileged women to become doctors and relegated nursing, again, to a more working-class profession.

Further, the series is based on a memoir by an actual midwife working in the East End, and women who worked with her, who are still alive, have vouched for the general accuracy of the details about class, race, etc.

(And, yes, the nuns are Anglican (not Catholic) and the nuns and midwives are generally in favor of birth control. As Chummy reminds us, "If God hadn't wanted [condoms'] use, he wouldn't have created rubber. It too is entirely natural.")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:06 PM on May 22, 2014 [11 favorites]


I wasn't implying that the class of the existing midwifes wasn't historically accurate, just that it would be interesting to see some nurses from more distinctive backgrounds. Though that's at least been somewhat addressed with the new midwife who arrives in season 3, who at least gets some sort of character beyond "cute, polite, and well-educated".
posted by Sara C. at 7:15 PM on May 22, 2014


Oh, and the thing I cannot -- CANNOT -- get over, and I'm sure everyone who's had a baby has one from this show, is the episode where Chummy is trying to deliver a breech baby. I was like so clenched up I thought I might never unclench and breathe again and I could hardly cope with how horrifying I found it ... because my first baby was undeliverably breech and THANK GOD FOR C-SECTIONS AND ANESTHESIA. Because the way Chummy has to do it? NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:19 PM on May 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think that was the episode that really brought me around to the show. (In fact I think it's either the next episode after the one this thread is meant to discuss, or maybe episode 3?) I don't have an opinion on breech babies based on giving birth, but that moment where she suddenly realizes that, not only can she do this, it is the thing she was put on this earth to do, the one thing she isn't a fuckup at? Man, that is a powerful thing.
posted by Sara C. at 7:21 PM on May 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also I'm pretty sure c-sections and anesthesia exist in the world of Call The Midwife, the show is just always at pains to keep them at arm's length for maximum drama purposes. There's always some extenuating circumstance that means the midwife has to deliver the baby while they wait for an ambulance stuck in a traffic jam, or whatever.
posted by Sara C. at 7:23 PM on May 22, 2014


children were tracked into levels by age 11

To elaborate on this, my father was born in the 30s in Scotland, and in his primary school, kids were not just tracked, but actually sat in the classroom in order by rank. So the top performing kid literally sat in the first seat of the front row, and the lowest performing kid in the last seat of the back row.

Imagine trying to adjust your performance in that setting?!

Re the washing and rickets and so forth, I keep waiting for them to show houses without indoor toilets, which was still pretty common, no?
posted by latkes at 7:41 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


PS, nurses here still don't need bachelors degrees. I only have an Associates Degree and I'm an RN. Same pay and same work as any other nurse. But that was interesting to hear about how it became a more working class profession again!
posted by latkes at 7:42 PM on May 22, 2014


What were the prospects like for the top performing kids in that environment? I get that not all children were shepherded through to secondary school and even university as would be the case for upper class children, but if you were a bright working class student were you still getting kicked out on your ass at 13?

At least by the time you get to the 70s -- if the Up Series of documentaries is a reasonable resource -- it seems like some kind of vocational education (including nursing?) was an option for working class students.
posted by Sara C. at 7:44 PM on May 22, 2014


Anecdotally my dad was a bright working class kid over there in the 60s and he was out of school by 13, to work because his parents wanted it that way. His cousins, just as bright, same town, same background, went to secondary school because their parents valued education and advocated for them. Kind of a sucky system.
posted by bleep at 8:11 PM on May 22, 2014


Sara C.: "Also I'm pretty sure c-sections and anesthesia exist in the world of Call The Midwife,"

With extremely safe epidural anesthesia, accurate and detailed ultrasound imaging technology, low transverse incisions, clean and safe blood transfusions, and widely-available antibiotics? No, no they did not.

The maternal mortality rate for C-sections in a first-world country in the 1950s was around 5%. Today it is 0.013%.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:50 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I want to clarify that I don't think the show is pablum with a religious agenda, at all!

I just wonder if that's how it's seen in the UK, which AFAIK doesn't have a past of shows like Seventh Heaven and Touched By An Angel to point and laugh at.


Call the Midwife fits into the Sunday night nostalgia show slot in the UK- essentially the formula is 'what it was like being a midwife/policeman/vet/ in the 1940's/50's/60's.' I don't think its seen as having a religious agenda as such- the social issues/rise of the NHS thing seem to be whats discussed.
posted by threetwentytwo at 7:54 AM on May 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not just abortion - I was surprised to find that adoption was so rarely mentioned. Did the Baby Scoop not happen in the UK?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:00 AM on May 23, 2014


Adoption gets a heavy story arc in season 3, which I will avoid discussing for reasons of Here There Be Mega-Spoilers.

Also, isn't there some adoption in season 1, in a storyline which I'm pretty sure hasn't started as of the episode we're theoretically discussing in this thread? There are a few episodes over the course of the series where you'd think adoption would be discussed and it isn't, but all in all the frequent discussion of adoption as an option probably is one of the main hallmarks of it being a period show.
posted by Sara C. at 11:30 AM on May 23, 2014


I remember two things about this episode: Nurse Jenny Lee being pushed into eating a lot of cake by Sister Eccentric and an introduction to the scoring style. It's very soaring and blatant about what is supposed to be felt, very reminiscent of a Final Fantasy game.

Is scoring like this typical of dramas in the UK? To me, it sounds good, yet is distracting, but maybe very-forward music is something UK audiences are attuned to?
posted by ignignokt at 7:26 AM on May 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Another possible explanation for the tone may be because the first two seasons were pretty closely based on a memoir, which was written about 40 years after the fact and thus may have been a bit misty and hazy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on May 24, 2014


I read a short review of the series by M John Harrison, which I can't find right now to link to. I thought he would hate it, but he said (I think quite correctly) that the sentimentality of the show allows it to be politically forceful and radical. The ruling classes in England are trying to dismantle the NHS and the postwar welfare state. Virtually everyone else in England values those institutions. Call the Midwife dramatises our communal values.
posted by communicator at 9:42 AM on May 24, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yeah, one of my main takeaways from Call The Midwife re British culture is, "damn, English people eat an awful lot of cake..."
posted by Sara C. at 11:48 AM on May 24, 2014


I just finished two years living in the UK and my viewing of this show overlapped my first NHS experiences. As a result, I assumed the nurses called "Sister [X]" at my GP's office were nuns, and referred to then as such to my husband in conversation. No. They are not nuns. It's an honorary title for senior nurses. Assuming they are nuns will make your husband laugh at you.

So. Enjoyed the series. Did not enjoy my resulting confusion :(

That said I do really credit this show with building my understanding of what modern midwifery can be. Coming from the US I'd assumed it was all hippies and no epidurals. Now I'm four months pregnant and really looking forward to my remaining prenatal care and delivery being with a midwife group. Yay, television!
posted by olinerd at 6:14 AM on May 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


Oh hey, a midwifs thread! Our midwives actually recommended we watch this show in our first prenatal visit. My husband didn't understand why I wanted to watch "hours of women screaming," but there you go. What I like best about it is that it shows a healthy example of the midwifery model of care, with complicated and dangerous cases referred to doctors (which is exactly how it should work!) If you want to watch a modern, reality-TV equivalent, there's a wonderful BBC documentary program called The Midwives which is about modern NHS midwives.

One thing I noticed in both the series and the memoir is that Jenny is probably the least likable midwife. She's really pretty awful.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:22 AM on May 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


Ah, that's a bit rough on Jenny for me. Going by the initial character set up in this episode, it's clear she's been caught up in a romantic/emotional tangle since the age of 17 which has an ongoing impact on much of her behaviour, and she does come from a position of class privilege and naiveity which she freely admits in the narration. She's not perfect, but she's pretty much acting as the 'fish out of water' for the viewers as much as anything.
posted by ewok and chips at 10:37 AM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't call her awful but I would call her unbelievably boring. The "most perfect little girl in the world" always takes up so much plot time.
posted by bleep at 11:02 AM on May 25, 2014


I often want to shake her and tell her to grow a pair.

I also have a lot of things to say about her various romantic entanglements, but I think that gets too spoilery for Season 1, Episode 1.
posted by Sara C. at 11:08 AM on May 25, 2014


Yeah, one of my main takeaways from Call The Midwife re British culture is, "damn, English people eat an awful lot of cake..."

Well, we do, but I have a feeling the final end of WW2 rationing in 1954 (this first series is set in 1957) has a lot to do with the whole cake thing as well.
posted by ewok and chips at 11:32 AM on May 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


This is my guilty pleasure. My so guilty 'I don't even watch it on the iPlayer on the TV in case my husband decides to watch something and finds it in the "Previously watched" section' pleasure.

I don't want to have children myself. I hate with a passion One Born Every Minute. But for some reason, the combination of soft 50s' nostalgia and powerfully progressive political agendas, and I'm there.

The first episode is a bit bland and forgettable, but, man, does it ever pick up.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:16 PM on May 26, 2014


Seems like an hour long ad for Socialism, feminism and bike riding, and I'm totally drinking the cool aid.

This.
posted by donajo at 4:13 PM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


I admit, part of the appeal for me is the vintage nostalgia - at least with the clothes. And the cathartic emotional release each episode seems to give me, featuring much feels and crying. I'm in the UK and watched it on TV when first broadcast, and was blown away by the fact it has so many women talking about women's issues, and showing different women's lives. It feels important to me, and in some sense (perhaps gently) radical to have this on prime time, with high budgets and detailed storylines.

Issues to do with pro-choice/pro-life come up certainly in later series in a more explicit fashion. However, I read many of the episodes as implicitly and subtly dissecting maternal choice in the context of a society which expects you to have kids, and where having ever more kids often compounds complete and utter destitution. So, even though many (though not all) of the babies are wanted, the show does portray the problems of lack of contraception as a choice, and what the expectation to keep having children does to women, and indeed poor families in the East End.

I'm not religious, and I don't view the show as religious per se, despite the obvious highlighting of nuns. I research medieval holy women, including nuns, and the ways in which such women could attain certain levels of dynamism in the world normally disallowed to women by dint of their adherence to a religious rule (becoming a nun or otherwise). So, with my particular research bias I read the nuns as finding ways to be active in the world in *different* ways than would be acceptable or really doable, e.g. Sister Monica Joan (high class, monied) or Sister Evangelina (lower class).

There is one episode to date which looks at racism, but the intersection of race and gender is the weakest area of the show in my opinion.

I admit I'm a CtM fan girl, so my thoughts on the show are clearly filtered through a positive lens -- in my most charitable readings of the show I think it allows for a discussion of the different roles allowed to women, how women challenge this and the choices women could and did make. In a way, the vintage setting allows the BBC to bring these big questions to a prime time audience, with the safety of "oh, this isn't really modern stuff...but hmmm how would this play out similarly now, eh?"
posted by thetarium at 3:30 AM on June 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm in the UK and watched it on TV when first broadcast, and was blown away by the fact it has so many women talking about women's issues, and showing different women's lives. It feels important to me, and in some sense (perhaps gently) radical to have this on prime time, with high budgets and detailed storylines.

This, so much.
posted by Sara C. at 9:32 AM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


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