Review of Call the Midwife: ‘Christmas Special’
SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen Call the Midwife: ‘Christmas Special’
The nuns and midwives of Nonnatus House have enough experience to know that life in Poplar does not run to schedule and thanks to those pesky poshos of Downton on the other side they had to induce the delivery date of their first Christmas special.
Heidi Thomas’s Fifties period drama was a runaway hit for the beeb this year and it comes as no surprise to see it playing a starring role in their festive line-up. The set designer may have been a tad liberal with the faux frosting machine but the period details are excellent, an evocative backdrop to the action not a glaring pastiche that could so easily overtake the plot.
The dulcet tones of Dame Vanessa Redgrave’s introductory narrative lulled the men of the household into an apathetic fug of gentle televisual tolerance only to be wrenched, toes curling, into the guttural gynaecological fumings of a new mother screaming for an enema to an impatient queue waiting to use the communal tenement loo.
For this is the format that has served Call the Midwife so well – nostalgic whimsy and a dash of sentimentality that segues seamlessly into chronicling the sheer brutal struggle faced by many in poverty, in post-war Britain. Hence we have Miranda Hart’s Chummy (yes, that is her name) ‘bally-ing’ and ‘bravo-ing’ at regular intervals whilst grappling with crepe paper preparing for the local nativity, whilst in another scene, our hero Jenny (Jessica Raine) is working out how to get the shoes off a tramp when their skin has melded to the soles.
Tonight’s two main story strands centred on the life that led to an old woman’s physical and mental destitution and a secret teenage pregnancy. Sheila Reid’s performance as a mother who lost all her children decades earlier in the workhouse could easily have bordered on hysterical but she provided some of the most affecting and gentle scenes of the night as she reluctantly accepted the care and guidance of the women of Nonnatus House.
Again the scenes where a frightened girl delivers her baby alone in a disused factory are excellently played and one has to wonder if she would have abandoned the child so quickly on the steps of the convent if she knew the only name they could come up with for her boy was Raymond.
As the threads of loss and abandonment are stitched up in an emergency costume sewing session, one can’t help but forego the usual period drama bah humbug and praise another bally good offering from the nuns and midwives of Nonnatus.Tagged in: Call the Midwife, Call the Midwife: Christmas Special, Downton Abbey, Heidi Thomas, Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Nonnatus, Vanessa Redgrave
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