Call the Midwife: Episode 2
May 26, 2014 5:26 PM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

The harsh life of immigrant sex workers and a new, awkward, upperclass midwife comes to Nonnatus House.

Not sure if we're going to switch to a "rewatch" style of posting about this show, but for now posting here.
posted by latkes (41 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Seriously I adore Chummy so much that I am now obsessed with Miranda Hart and everything she's ever done. Chummy is my favorite character on the show and I'm pretty sure I would never have fully bought into Call The Midwife if she hadn't arrived on the scene in this episode. She really makes the entire show, as far as I'm concerned.

Protip for Chummy fans: Miranda Hart also had a sitcom, called Miranda, for a while; it's streaming on Hulu nowadays.
posted by Sara C. at 5:34 PM on May 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yeah, total love for Chummy. I will def. check out Miranda's show.

On the other hand, I thought Mary's character was problematic. Amy McAllister was convincing and compelling, and I totally could believe in the authenticity of the scenario she was in, but on the other hand, the show chose the stereotype prostitute story, instead of showing how complicated choosing sex work was (and is) given the few choices for women.

Also, how the priest at the home for wayward girls or whatever that place was seemed so benign, which totally doesn't ring true for what I know about the Magdeline Laundries.
posted by latkes at 6:12 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

My take is that the show didn't want to blow open the whole "sent away" adoption racket so early on. In fact that's one of the areas where I feel like Call The Midwife is actually pretty conservative, or at least would be within an American TV context.

FWIW I don't think England had "Magdalene Laundries". That's an Irish thing. Obviously the UK would have had places where pregnant girls were sent to have their babies, just like the US did. But at least in the US case, while the system was rotten, it wasn't, like, slave labor rotten.
posted by Sara C. at 6:36 PM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Huh, interesting stuff. Started googling and found this article on the history of lone parenthood.

Regarding the previous discussion about diversity among council nurses, this quote from the article is germane: 'Some 30 years later, the National Council was agonising over what it referred to as 'the West Indian problem' in the 1950s: the relatively high pregnancy rates on arrival, or soon after, of lone women recruited from the Caribbean to work as NHS nurses.

This is also interesting.
posted by latkes at 7:27 PM on May 26, 2014


The moment I saw a thread about Call The Midwife, I've wanted to let that out. Almost did in the past thread too, until I remembered she didn't show up until episode 2.

There aren't words for how much I love Chummy.
posted by meese at 9:13 PM on May 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

My only worry with CtM and Miranda Hart is that it gives her less time to make Miranda. My entire household, except my husband, is obsessed with Miranda, the show. We have watched all the episodes repeatedly, and when the new season came out, we were all dancing in joy. So rude, as I like to call it.

Her book, Is It Just Me?, is very funny too. I have her earlier radio plays saved for another hospital stay because I have a clear sweet memory of shuffling through a ward at night, terribly sad and worried, but still half bent over giggling at what she was reading on my earphones. She is so kind and clever and funny.

She was also in Hyperdrive, a somewhat obscure and viciously daft scifi series.

Now I'm imagining some TV show that has Miranda Hart and Olivia Colman costarring. It would be the Best TV Ever.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:38 PM on May 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Miranda was well off the air before Hart was cast in Call The Midwife. Also, each show is only six episodes per series, with series not always filmed in consecutive years. And the woman ain't that busy. She could make time. Miranda Hart, you could make what I like to call, "time"!

I like Hyperdrive, but it really doesn't give her anything at all to do. And I feel bad for Teal/don't like to see her playing sad-sack characters. She has so much strength, and it's a shame not to put that to use.

posted by Sara C. at 11:30 PM on May 26, 2014

I'm going to be the odd one out.

I like the character of Chummy, but I don't love her, and, in fact, at times, I get so angry with her in this season.

It's the "I'm here to save the poor poor people who have poor poor lives" attitude. The writers don't emphasise it, which is nice, and I'm glad they gloss over it a bit, but it's still there, and it still drives me up the wall.

It's why she wants to go to Africa to be a missionary. It's why she wants to be a midwife in a poor East End neighbourhood. She wants to save these poor wretched souls from themselves, and it's patronising and it's historically accurate and it annoys me to no end.

She does get better in later seasons, but her reasons for being a midwife, for being there, they're just irritating as hell to me in the first season.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:19 AM on May 27, 2014

Does she actually say that in the show?
posted by Sara C. at 1:27 AM on May 27, 2014

I always assumed she wanted to be a missionary because she was religious and wanted to like spread the word of god and such. Which is what missionaries do.
posted by Sara C. at 1:28 AM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, what else is she really going to do with her life? A lot of wealthy young women in Britain at that time were simply expected to never work or contribute to society in any way. Which isn't great. I think it's a good thing that Chummy wants to make herself useful in the world.

And then, OK, so what are her choices in doing that? Obviously there are a lot of other careers out there, but Chummy is brilliant at being a nurse, so I don't think that was a bad choice for her.

So, you've got this nurse named Chummy. I suppose she could decide that, since she is from a wealthy background, she is only going to work in fancy private hospitals and help other rich people. But why is that a good thing? Surely upper class people have a lot of resources and it's easy for them to get access to medical care. Meanwhile, the NHS has a high demand for nurses, in communities where Chummy's work is actually needed. Why not go there?

And at least she's not turning her nose up at anyone. Unlike some midwives I could mention. (*Cough* Jenny Lee *Cough*)

OK, triple post tirade complete. I'm off to bed.
posted by Sara C. at 1:44 AM on May 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got the feeling Chummy was being pretty subversive by choosing this work. Because of the expectations of her station in life, she's very restricted in what she can choose. Nursing is permissible because it is a Christian duty to care for the sick, etc., but the midwife specialization was probably a bold move for Chummy. Women still were accountable to their parents or husbands for any decisions they made and they could be forbidden to engage in something that was considered unacceptable activity. A few years later work choices began to change for single women but for girls like her, propriety was still very much required.
posted by Anitanola at 1:53 AM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I got the impression from later episodes that Chummy felt she had a Calling, like the nun's vocation, to be a missionary, from when she was a little girl and all awkward and not fitting in with colonial-British society in India, so nursing was a compromise and midwifery became a revelation to her for something she was seriously good at. I think the class clash between her and her husband is underplayed for the period. She really married down socially and the compromise they came up with - he went to Sierra Leone for her dream, etc. It feels unrealistically happy to me because I am a cynical bitch, and yet because it's Chummy I want her to be happy.

The show does want to have its cake and eat it. The main cast of midwifes and nuns make good choices at the end, and none of them are truly cruel or selfish, only the transient characters of the week.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:17 AM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I honestly can't remember if she says that or not - it was just the feeling I got from her at the very beginning, and it drove me up the wall.

Then again, compared to Jenny, Chummy only drives me up the wall occasionally.

(Secretly, I just want Trixie and Cynthia to run everything - Cynthia becoming a total Earth Mother hippie type and Trixie just being a wisecracking superstar and both of them delivering all the babies.)
posted by Katemonkey at 3:20 AM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I visited England last fall, I managed to catch an episode of Miranda while flipping through channels. I was so super-ultra-excited that Chummy had her own show, yaaaay Chummy!

I only watched five minutes of it and wasn't particularly impressed, but a just-okay show with Miranda Hart is still a show with Miranda Hart.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:53 AM on May 27, 2014

Yes, I caught a few of the Miranda episodes this past winter and the humor is broad, verrrrry broad. Kind of like "Three's Company" broad. I love her character in Midwife though.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:34 AM on May 27, 2014

You get NO CAKE.

I bought Heather Small's album so I could sing it at top volume in the shower.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:26 AM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Actually coming back to that, Is CtM unusual or is it just a British tv thing to not have much music, except instrumental? It's the 1950s with amazing music, and yet aside from the nuns singing hymns and the occasional LP being played while they drink Babycham, there is just that syrupy instrumental playing.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:28 AM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's in later episodes that they realise the marketing potential, because I can only remember era-appropriate music.
posted by Katemonkey at 7:35 AM on May 27, 2014

I think it might be a money thing from before the show was successful, since in later seasons they play lots of 50s music.

It also could be down to just the show finding its voice. Changes in scoring and music are pretty common for young TV series.
posted by Sara C. at 9:06 AM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chummy is awesome.
posted by homunculus at 7:37 PM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gah, Katemonkey, that album looks awesome and I cannot get it! I may have to resort to ordering a physical CD. I think I bought a CD about five years ago.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:46 PM on May 27, 2014

Well, this is frustrating. My local PBS station just wrapped-up series 3 of CtM.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:31 AM on May 28, 2014

Yeah, it just aired, from about March until a couple weeks ago. My local PBS affiliate's website still has it available to stream, though. So maybe check yours?

The especially frustrating thing, to me, is that between Netflix and my local PBS affiliate website, there is at least one missing Christmas Special. I don't want to spoil anything, but apparently a TON of plot happened between seasons 2 and 3 which is all in that Christmas Special. I wish American companies would get with the program that the Christmas Specials are part of the show, and should be licensed along with the regular episodes. Downton Abbey has the same problem. It's like if British networks bought our shows and for some reason didn't think to get the season finale.
posted by Sara C. at 10:45 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Katemonkey, I can't really get annoyed with Chummy for all that even though I see it and am aware of it, because really, the point is that she's there. Regardless of her reasons for doing it, she's got her boots on the ground doing good things for people, and to me, that's all you need. You can meta-analyze reasons for doing good to death, and come to the conclusion that there's no such thing as true altruism, that it's all about self-gratification in the end, blah blah blah, but reasons don't particularly matter to the person on the receiving end, so long as what they're receiving is actually needed/wanted. Which in this case, it is!

Jenny's absolutely the one who drives me bonkers, too - and she seems far less sincere than Chummy about her work and her reasons for being there as well. Chummy wants to help people, whether from a place of absolute privilege and misunderstanding or not; Jenny just wants to run away and look charitable and didn't expect to get her hands very dirty doing it, it seems like. (But again, she's there anyway, and being changed by it, so I can't hate her for it.)
posted by po at 11:02 AM on May 28, 2014

ALSO, in case anyone else is like me and adores Sister Monica Joan and is uneducated in the ways of classical poetry, I've been making a project out of finding the literature her quotes are taken from. From this episode:

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout... "
S. Bernadette: "Sister Monica Joan..."
"I refer to the fact... that her nose is running!" ~34:20 - King Lear, Act III Scene II

"Sweet voice, sweet lips, soft hand and softer breast,
Warm breath, light whisper, tender semitone... Not even the softness of the breast, or any other body part, helped to sway the policeman's wrath. " ~39:00 or so - The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone, Keats
posted by po at 11:41 AM on May 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

My local PBS affiliate's website still has it available to stream, though. So maybe check yours?

What I was referring to is, I just watched season three, and this thread is all about season one. Not sure I can remember that far back.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:21 PM on May 28, 2014

I kind of hate Sister Monica Joan, and then I feel guilty about that, so I try harder to appreciate her, but no, I just seriously don't get her like at all
posted by Sara C. at 2:24 PM on May 28, 2014

I think Sister Monica Jone does bring something to the show - she is in a sense the child that the nuns are now caring for as she slips further away. They are right on the cusp of fewer novitiates, seeing the convent and mission they devoted their lives to gradually fading and where Sister Monica Jones was a sort of Chummy-escape - an upper class woman who found her calling, but Chummy and the younger midwives all have so many more choices. She is the crone, and she is the rememberence of midwife history and the East End before, against the NHS science and development relentless march forward.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:08 AM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Jenny's absolutely the one who drives me bonkers, too - and she seems far less sincere than Chummy about her work and her reasons for being there as well.

I can see why people are annoyed with her, but I think she gets the narrative short end of the stick what with being the new midwife and POV character who most obviously struggles with the culture shock and difficulty of the job. She definitely improves over the course of the show, though I admit to seriously side-eyeing her romantic relationships. At any rate, this isn't exactly the 1950s equivalent of voluntourism for Jenny: midwifery and nursing are hard work, and she is clearly committed to doing that work. I can forgive a little judginess.
posted by yasaman at 3:42 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

What I was referring to is, I just watched season three, and this thread is all about season one. Not sure I can remember that far back.

The first two seasons (and possibly the third?) are on Netflix.
posted by donajo at 3:49 PM on May 29, 2014

The third season isn't on Netflix yet, or at least wasn't as of last week when I checked.
posted by yasaman at 4:05 PM on May 29, 2014

Check your local PBS affiliate website. The third season just finished airing on PBS in the US a couple of weeks ago. I was able to watch the last half of the season last week on KCET's site, and it may still be online.
posted by Sara C. at 4:10 PM on May 29, 2014

Dr. Turner is a real ass in this episode. In the clinic, he talks about the one lady's rickets to Chummy--how she grew up in extreme poverty, didn't get enough sunlight and nutrition as a child--as if the patient wasn't right there. Of courses Chummy comforts her, in her Chummy way, which Dr. Turner notes, but geez, doc. Be a little more sensitive.
posted by donajo at 9:49 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

That happens constantly on this show. I get that it's because the show wants to talk about issues that would normally be private, but it gets old. I mean, I'm not so worried about the privacy angle, but like seriously you couldn't come up with a more elegant way to bring it up than to air people's dirty laundry?
posted by Sara C. at 10:07 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I came to CtM after reading Jennifer Worth's first volume of memoirs, so I already had the main characters' backstory and development arc in my head as I watched. Which was not a drawback at all, because this is not based on a novel with a plot. It freed up some mental space to observe the production values, how the actors portrayed their characters and how the script turned the original material into drama.

I can't recall the specific episode under discussion and don't have access to it, but in the absence of a more general thread I want to say here how inextricably the book and the TV series are intertwined for me. I'm conscious of the author's voice throughout. However filtered, these are her stories, her memories and experiences, her character flaws and illusions, her callow youth. The narrator's voice-over reminds me of this when I forget, and I welcome that.

I gotta say I've enjoyed watching someone's idea of a time when I was myself a baby and a little kid. Though I was in Australia we were culturally British in many ways back then, so some of it resonates. My part of town was similar to the East End, socioeconomically, minus the bomb damage. I enjoyed seeing a facsimile of my childhood world, even at some several removes. Period dramas interest me, because I like to see how others imagine the past and attempt to recreate history.

I work in aged care, on the creative rather than the medical side, and one of my favourite duties among many pleasant ones is Book Club, where I read aloud to a group of interested people. I don't always choose the book - I try to wait until a suitable one is offered by a resident or staff member or volunteer, to make it more inclusive. One day the RN handed me "Call the Midwife". I was impressed and so were the residents, almost all mothers/grandmothers/great-grandmothers.

As Jennifer Worth says in her intro, she started writing CtM after she noticed the midwifery-shaped hole in literature. No one was writing about it, no protagonist was a midwife by trade. So the Book Club heard detailed and engaging tales of childbirth, a subject they had a wealth of experience with, for the first time. They loved it. I felt some trepidation as I neared the first clinical passage. I'm reading into a mike, because though it's a cosyish setting most of the audience are hard of hearing. Would they wince, would they be pissed off when my amplified voice said "vagina" for all the world to hear? Ha! Totally unfounded, as are most of my fears.
posted by valetta at 2:21 AM on May 31, 2014 [9 favorites]

Dr. Turner is a real ass in this episode. In the clinic, he talks about the one lady's rickets to Chummy--how she grew up in extreme poverty, didn't get enough sunlight and nutrition as a child--as if the patient wasn't right there. Of courses Chummy comforts her, in her Chummy way, which Dr. Turner notes, but geez, doc. Be a little more sensitive.

I think it's jarring because it pretty much illustrates the paternalistic attitude that doctors had toward their patients in the '50s. You see this in some of the hospital episodes as well.

Chummy has some brilliant moments (of which this episode is one) and Jennifer Worth picked Miranda Hart personally to play her IIRC, but at points she dominates the ensemble a little too much for me.
posted by ewok and chips at 10:01 AM on May 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

The narrator's voice-over reminds me of this when I forget, and I welcome that.

Yeah, that's the main reason I'm willing to give the voiceover a pass in this particular case. Usually I hate voiceover and am suspicious of things that lean on it heavily. But here, I like that we get both Older Jenny and Young Jenny. For one thing, it makes her character slightly more sympathetic. I think without Vanessa Redgrave's gravitas, I would want to push Jenny Lee off a cliff.

Re Chummy's dominance, I think a lot of that is that the other midwives who aren't either Chummy or Jenny generally get very little to do, especially in this series. On the one hand, there are only six episodes and you've got a lot of story to tell, and you've stacked the deck by casting a dull journeyman actress in the protagonist's role, and a brilliant magnetic comedienne as the next most prominent member of the ensemble. So people like Cynthia, Sister Bernadette, etc. get lost in the shuffle.
posted by Sara C. at 10:15 AM on May 31, 2014

dull journeyman actress

Wow. I think she portrays the character as written perfectly. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
posted by ewok and chips at 10:26 AM on May 31, 2014

I mean, she's fine, and she nails the 50s look perfectly and looks beautiful in the clothes (also I'm guessing the hint of a resemblance to Princess Elizabeth is deliberate). But she's not really a breakout star kind of actress. She doesn't make me LOVE Jenny Lee. I probably wouldn't watch another show just because she was in it, for example. Whereas I've now exhausted Miranda Hart's repertoire, down to one-off episodes of panel shows on YouTube. Whereas I've already forgotten the Jenny Lee actress' name and can't be bothered to go google it.
posted by Sara C. at 10:33 AM on May 31, 2014

I've been making a project out of finding the literature [Sister Monica Joan's] quotes are taken from.

What a great idea po! Thanks, looking forward to more.

Sister Monica Joan fascinates me, I can't get enough of her. How she slides between bafflement and wisdom, anxiety and mischief. Judy Parfitt plays her beautifully, never maudlin or a caricature of dementia. Parfitt's own husband had it, and she also gives much credit to head writer Heidi Thomas's skill and sensitivity, as she explains towards the end of this article.

Would be lovely if my workday was punctuated with passages from Keats, but at least I get treated to one lady's spontaneous recitations of Banjo Paterson, delivered in a soft, dreamy undertone.
posted by valetta at 9:27 PM on May 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

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