Call The Midwife: Sunday Night Drama To “Make You Wince”

On yer bike MIranda

CALL THE MIDWIDE: Sunday 15th January, BBC1, 8pm

“That wasn’t funny…was it?â€? When it comes to serious acting Miranda Hart happily admits that it took her a while to get in touch with her thespian side.

And who can blame her? The 39-year-old who was dubbed the Best Comedy Actress of 2011 (and dubs herself “a natural cyclistâ€?), has experienced two seasons of success with self-penned comedy, Miranda, and has one more in the pipeline. But Hart has taken some time out of her gag-laden schedule to join the cast of new BBC drama, Call the Midwife, to play an awkward, bumbling midwife in 1950s London.

Based on the bestselling memoirs of Jennifer Worth, this series recreates the joy, pain and stress of life as a midwife in the roughest neighbourhoods of eastend London. With emphasis placed, rather surprisingly, on the pain. The first episode had an auditorium of journalists (admittedly not the hardiest bunch) squirming in their chairs and biting their ring-bound notebooks for comfort. Viewers can probably expect around 2.5 births per Sunday night instalment if the season premier is anything to go by. And as BBC period dramas go, it’s pretty grisly.

Having landed her first TV role, leading lady Jessica Raine (pictured below) explained how keen she is for her Sunday night audience to be sitting uncomfortably. “It was really important to us to make it real”, said Raine. “It wasn’t about making it overly dramatic, but right from the start it was really important for me that it looked real. It’s not like camera shoots right up between the legs! We keep blankets and clothes on, as they would have done in the 50s, there was a very different attitude then. But you will wince.â€?

Jessica Raine as newbie midwife, Jenny Lee


Alongside Raine, who plays newbie nurse Jennifer, sits a truly stunning cast of old and new TV faces. Judy Parfitt plays the slightly doollally Sister Monica Joan to a tea (and cake) while Pam Ferris rules the convent with a fist of wimple-clad iron. Jenny Agutter appears as the mild-mannered Sister Julienne, completing the Holy Trinity of talent who have had a calming influence on otherwise jittery first time TV actresses.

Miranda Hart was the only cast member to be specifically chosen by the late author, who sadly passed away just one day before filming was due to begin. Worth’s description of clumsy “Chummyâ€? in the book reads thus: “I thought it was a bloke in drag. Six foot two inches tall, with shoulders like a front-row forward and size eleven feet, her parents had spent a fortune trying to make her feminine, but to no effect.â€?

What in the name of great big size eleven feet made Worth think of Miranda, we wonder?

Anyone other than Hart would probably take that the wrong way but predictably she is “thrilledâ€? to have been recognised as a broad and unfeminine calamity case. “It was amazing! She [author Jennifer Worth] sent me the book and said, ‘When I first saw you I thought of Chummy’. So I flipped straight to Chummy’s entrance…well you would!…and read Chummy’s entrance and thought, ‘I really hope I get to play her’â€?.

Luckily for her, fate, and the BBC bosses, dealt Hart the hand she was after.

The last two years have been dominated by Downton Abbey fever. There is no denying that a fantastical period drama spawned by the great Fellowes makes for a welcome bedfellow on a Sunday eve but it’s about time DA had a worthy opponent. Call the Midwife may not attract the same dedicated following but it does offer something new and engrossing to our Sunday night schedules. The exquisite set design and heartfelt performances bring to life the otherwise forgotten memories of hardworking nurses and midwives who kept women and children safe in times of great hardship. Not to mention the spotlight this series casts on the stories of desperate but dignified Eastend families who suffered in such abysmal conditions, less than 60 years ago.

Frankly, it all makes for a rather welcome change from labyrinthine quandaries of an imaginary rich family and their imaginary woes.

Call the Midwife begins this Sunday on BBC1 at 8pm.