memoir of Jennifer Worth. Vanessa Redgrave is the narrator as the mature voice of young nurse Jenny Lee, a midwife at Nonnatus House in London’s East End in the late 1950s. Nonnatus House is run by midwife nuns, but a group of young (non-nun) nurses, including Jenny, live in the house and work with the large number of patients needing their assistance.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the show is watching the uptight and custom-bound 1950s dissolve into what will become the 1960s and all the changes that accompany that decade – especially for women. It’s also interesting to see how the various characters adapt to each other, like gruff Sister Evangelina who makes the young nurses prove themselves to her before she’ll accept them. My favorite character, Chummy, played by comedienne Miranda Hart appeared after the first episodes and really saved the show for me as a bicycle-challenged, but gifted nurse. Upper-class Chummy uses her self-depreciating humor and kindness to calm suspicious East End mothers and to gain their trust. Nurse Jenny seems less defined and less interesting than Chummy, but there’s still season three (airing on PBS beginning March 30, 2014) for Jenny’s character to grow.
It probably won’t come as a surprise that Call the Midwife often portrays several unmedicated home births per episode along with lots of anguished vocalizing – in a recurring scene, screams echo over courtyards filled with oblivious adults and children going about their day. Reasons for celebration arrive with the introduction of “gas and air” which provides some much needed relief for mothers and the option of giving birth in a maternity hospital.
Call the Midwife is a guilty pleasure and a tear jerker, but as a little escape from the expectations of the season, it’s just what the midwife ordered.