I’m sure the BBC are very glad to welcome back Call the Midwife. They know a good thing when they broadcast it, and if the comments I received on a review last year are anything to go by, their audience is crazed and slathering for more. Well, as crazed as you can get in a nice semi-detached in Guildford, anyway.
Jenny Agutter’s Sister Julienne still rules Nonnatus House with a rod of the softest velour, accompanied by her trusty lieutenants, hatchet-faced Sister Evangelina and barking Sister Monica Jane – though the drugs appear to be working well.
As this is the first episode, the Beeb’s priority is to swaddle the returning viewer in the Moses basket of period whimsy that so comforted the best part of 10 million people the first time round.
And we sink into it effortlessly; despite the intervening years, nothing has changed. A throwaway reference to pop music (‘oh, I don’t like Pat Boone any more’) is the only concession to progress.
The storylines aren’t all cuddly, though. Our winsome heroine Jenny (Jessica Raine, narrated by Vanessa Redgrave) is confronted by the reality of domestic abuse in the 1950′s. Sadly her patient’s deluded love for her violent husband means there’s nothing to be done, and no happy ending.
And Trixie (Helen George), helping a woman deliver her unexpected child on a Swedish cargo ship, is shocked at the captain providing his own daughter as concubine for the whole crew. Although it’s treated with a certain Sunday-night lightness, it’s a powerful bit of drama where you’d least expect it.
Fortunately, Chummy (that’s Mrs Noakes to you, married to her cuddly policeman and affectionately testing him on prostitution laws in the marital bed) is on hand to lighten the mood. People have criticized Miranda Hart for only being able to play herself, but when it fits the part so well I’m not sure why that would be a problem.
This week, she’s the glamorous assistant to Dr Turner (Stephen McGann), who demonstrates the innovation that is nitrous oxide – the now-legendary ‘gas and air’. And she gets all squiffy! Such fun.
It’s all rather less fun for the doctor when a particularly self-confident patient (you can tell from twenty paces she’s trouble- she wears a leopard-skin coat, you see) in the middle of an agonising birth tries the gas and air and broadcasts to all and sundry how amazing it is. Suddenly the day job is put on hold and he’s running around madly trying to cover every confinement east of Blackfriars.
There might be a silver lining on the horizon, though. It seems Sister Bernadette holds a candle for the frenetic medic. As the show ends she’s seen sewing a button back on his coat, cradling the well-worn linen in a loving embrace. But she’s a nun. I foresee trouble, heartache and excellent television.
I’m not really a fan of the ‘in next week’s episode’ trailers all the channels seem to run nowadays – is it so odd to want the plot to remain a surprise? Shock of the week is Chummy’s desire to move to Sierra Leone. Sister Julienne asks her if she’s really considered the repercussions. I don’t think she needs to worry, though – the producers certainly will have and I don’t see a Matthew Crawley moment creeping up on us…
Quotes of the week:
‘My journey into womanhood began on the streets of East London’ – love, you’re not alone there.
While examining a patient internally – ‘Plenty of room in here’. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s spectacularly vulgar for prime time.