Four seasons in, and Call the Midwife remains compelling in both the larger topic of midwifery, as well as in the personal stories that ultimately makes the series so watchable. Set in 1960, a year after its previous season, Call the Midwife continues to balance the technical and historical with the individual in ways that make the series often relatable and always charming.
Season four begins with the arrival of two new nurses, Barbara Gilbert (Charlotte Ritchie), and Phyllis Crane (Linda Bassett), whose combined presence adds yet another interpersonal dynamic in Nonnatus House. Nurse Gilbert is qualified but initially struggles to prove her professionalism, while Nurse Crane is an immediately forceful and confident authority. Their addition to the series serves as a reminder that the stories of the midwives are many and varied, and can continue to expand as the series moves along in time.
Apart from the new nurses, the fourth season focuses a great deal on Trixie (Helen George) as she takes a much more senior role amongst the nurses, all the while dealing with her engagement to Tom (Jack Ashton) the vicar, and her increasing reliance on alcohol. Trixie’s slow unraveling is handled very well, as she gradually succumbs to her depression and addiction. George does an excellent job in portraying Trixie’s shame and denial, as well as offering further glimpses into her painful childhood, such as when a case of child neglect in the first episode brings up difficult memories. The series has been very smart in the way it uses the stories of the midwives’ patients to illuminate the lives of the midwives in that it never overuses the device, making the instances when it does occur feel much more natural and genuine.
This season also puts Patsy (Emerald Fennell) in a much more central role, and for the better. Patsy’s no-nonsense attitude, coupled with her somewhat secretive past, made her a highlight last season, but it is in the fourth season that she truly shows a much greater depth. As the season progresses, it’s revealed that Patsy is in a romantic relationship with a fellow nurse that she worked with at the London Hospital, Delia (Kate Lamb). Their relationship is kept from all those closest to them, which makes the devastating events of the finale even more heartbreaking. Fennell is wonderful in conveying the joy and the pain that come with Patsy’s relationship with Delia, further illuminating her personal life, but also dealing with issues faced by same-sex couples that still resonate today.
The season also marks the return of Cynthia (Bryony Hannah), though she is now a new postulate known as Sister Mary Cynthia. Her return to Nonnatus House is an adjustment, particularly as it relates to her friendship with Trixie, but one that marks the different paths of these young women strikingly. Their relationship was always one of opposites with a great deal of affection for one another, and it still is, but Cynthia’s new religious devotion creates some distance between the two, exacerbating Trixie’s isolation, but also revealing the expectations of Sister Mary Cynthia’s own training.
As mentioned before, the individual stories of the midwives are always informed and strengthened by their work. The women they encounter are often vulnerable in different ways, yet there is also simultaneously a strength of will that carries them forward in unexpected and dramatic ways. In continuing to expand the role of the midwife to include both prenatal and after care, the series has managed to consistently remain engrossing, even when tackling a burgeoning issue such as breast milk vs. formula.
What Call the Midwife does so well is make convey how midwifery can be exciting and mundane all at the same time. There is often repetitiveness to the work that can sometimes make it seem uneventful and almost easy, but the series never shies away from difficult moments. Whether contending with a language barrier, attempting to spread the word about safe sex amongst prostitutes, or dealing with neglected children, the midwives provide as much help and assistance as they can, even when there isn’t always a happy ending.
Call the Midwife has been successful from the very beginning of its run because it is unafraid to bring emotion and sentimentality to the work of the midwives. The series is often moving without ever being manipulative; no easy feat, yet one that it manages to achieve episode after episode. The excellent cast, coupled with the show’s strong sense of time and place, make Call the Midwife consistently engaging and satisfying.
Unfortunately, the DVD does not include any bonus features.