[29 May 2014]
“I’m afraid I have to give notice on my time here. I’m sorry. I admire what you do, greatly, but I realize I have to be able to sit with a patient all night if needed, or go to her at a moment’s notice. I need to care. I can’t ration it or turn it into an efficiency. That’ll never be my way.”
—Nurse Jenny Lee
Now in its third season, Call the Midwife continues to tell the stories of women giving birth in the East End of London, as well as the stories of the women who provide the medical care and emotional support necessary to bring so much new life into the world.
As the season begins it is 1959—just one year following the second season—and though the ‘60s and all the change that comes with them are so close, things seem very little changed in Poplar. Midwifery continues to be both exciting and mundane, depending on the birth. Advances are always being made in the field, but much of the work remains the same.
Continuing their work, Jenny (Jessica Raine), Trixie (Helen George), Cynthia (Bryony Hannah), and Chummy (Miranda Hart) are now all seasoned midwives with the confidence of experience. The series shifts somewhat from its focus on the midwifery learning curve to one on the personal relationships between the midwives, among others.
At one point in the season, Jenny is absent for a period and a new midwife, Patsy (Emerald Fennel), joins Nonnatus House. She brings a new dynamic to the already comfortable friendships between the midwives, as she is somewhat distant, but very capable. As more is revealed about her past, she establishes more of a bond, in the process becoming a welcome addition to the series.
Midwifery is not just the job of delivering babies, and those at Nonnatus House are determined to educate mothers, as well as provide care before and after the birth of a child. An ally and partner to midwives, Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann) continues his work alongside them, but the series also continues to shed light into his personal life now that he’s married to Shelagh (Laura Main), formerly Sister Bernadette. Their family life, complete with his son from his previous marriage, Tim (Max Macmillan), is frequently idyllic.
They work well together, Shelagh is a natural mother to Tim, and they genuinely love and respect each other. However, there are issues that arise once they’re married, such as a troubling time in Dr. Turner’s past, as well as problems conceiving another child. Their story is a highlight of the season because of how much the characters have grown over the three seasons and they’re easy to root for as a viewer.
While the series’ focus is birth and all that preparing for a new life entails, it has never shied away from death. In fact, death takes a larger role as it affects several of the main characters in much more personal ways. Previously, death was usually directly related to a birth, but the third season is more focused on how death, unrelated to midwifery, plays as large a role in their lives, albeit in different ways.
One of the deaths especially affects Jenny in its shocking and senseless nature. Jenny’s reaction to the death leads to surprising results and clearly has lasting ramifications for the coming season. Chummy also experiences the death of a loved one, and though it’s less surprising, it’s still very affecting. Part of what makes both stories so compelling is how Raine and Hart are able to communicate their grief so well. Hart, in particular, plays Chummy’s sorrow so movingly, partly because there’s so much history and regret tied into the relationship, that it’s one of the most memorable moments in the series.
In addition to affecting Jenny and Chummy, death also plays an important role in Sister Monica Joan’s (Judy Parfitt) own story. Though she’s suffering from some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, her sometimes strange and unsolicited words of advice are often perfectly apt and strikingly wise. The death of one character brings up a great deal of pain from her own past, and her inability to always communicate that pain is handled exceptionally well as Parfitt perfectly conveys Sister Monica Joan’s frustration and sadness.
Call the Midwife does stray some from the real life diaries that inspired the series this season, but at this point the characters, Poplar, and Nonnatus House are so well established that the show is able to move beyond the source material and still remain faithful to it. In its third season the series continues to highlight midwifery and those closely affected by the midwives.
Their stories are always engaging, not only because midwifery as it was practiced in the ‘50s is so interesting, but also because the midwives themselves are fully realized characters whose camaraderie and support of one another is just as compelling as the dramatic births and medical advancements of the time.
The DVD release includes just one bonus feature, Inside Call the Midwife, a standard behind-the-scenes featurette. It’s not essential, but the interviews with cast and crew are a nice addition nonetheless.