“Call the Midwife” Comes to PBS Masterpiece

by E. "Doc" Smith on September 28, 2012

I’ve always been a huge fan of the British actress Jenny Agutter, ever since she appeared in the 1971 Nicholas Roeg classic film “Walkabout”, and the subsequent sci-fi films “Logan’s Run” and “An American Werewolf in London”. Since that time, I’ve seen Agutter in dozens of other films and a few more BBC TV series, like “Bramwell” and “MI-5”. While searching for more of Agutter’s efforts last year, I was pleasantly surprised to find her in one of the best new BBC TV series to date, the critically acclaimed “Call the Midwife”. Now in its second season in England, we will finally get our first glimpse this Sunday night, when Call the Midwife makes its U.S. debut on PBS’s “Masterpiece”.

Call the Midwife was originally a memoir written by Jennifer Worth, and the first in a trilogy of books describing her work as a district nurse and midwife in the East End of London during the 1950s. Worth wrote the book after retiring from a subsequent career as a musician, and it was originally published in 2002. Reissued in 2007, it became a bestseller, as did the sequel “Shadows of the Workhouse” (2005, reissued 2008) and the final volume “Farewell to the East End” (2009). By the time of Worth’s death in June 2011, her books had already sold almost a million copies. In 2012, the popular BBC adaption of the trilogy boosted sales further, and all four of the author’s books about the East End (the “Midwife trilogy” and “In the Midst of Life” (2010).

PBS describes Call the Midwife as “a moving and intimate insight into the colorful world of midwifery and family life in 1950’s East London. We are introduced to the community through the eyes of young nurse Jenny Lee as she arrives at Nonnatus House to live and work as a midwife alongside an Order of Nuns. 

As Jenny comes to terms with her new life, we meet some phenomenal people who prove that their warmth, resilience and determination are to be admired beyond measure. At the heart of this world are the Sisters of St. Raymond Nonnatus who have been active in the East End as Anglican nursing nuns since the beginning of the 20th century.

The Sisters and the midwives of Nonnatus House carry out many nursing duties across the community. However, with between 80 and 100 babies being born each month in Poplar alone, their primary work is to help bring safe childbirth to women in the area and to look after their countless newborns. 

Starring newcomer Jessica Raine as Jenny, the cast includes the aforementioned Agutter as Sister Julienne, the head nun; the famed actress Pam Ferris, as Sister Evangilne (known to viewers as one of the sleuthing co-stars of “Rosemary & Thyme” and last seen as an evil villianess in “Luther”), Miranda Hart and Judy Parfitt. Three other new faces, Helen George, Bryony Hannah and Laura Main complete the regular ensemble cast. To top it off, Vanessa Redgrave provides the narration as the mature Jenny…”

I watched the entire first season last year, and can honestly say that Masterpiece fans will not be disappointed with this gritty and compelling tale of London in 1957. After the last few months of the wonderful “Inspector Morse” spin-off “Inspector Lewis”, the modern day “Sherlock”, (and after watching the pilot last night, I just can’t believe the new CBS version will be anywhere near as good), and the macabre thriller “Wallander” with Kenneth Brannagh, Call the Midwife is a fantastic segue back to the East End of London in the late 1950s and ushers in the return of the next series of “Upstairs Downstairs” of the 1930s and the 1920s world of the runaway hit “Downton Abbey”.

“Goodnight all…”

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