Tuesday 25 December, 7:30pm BBC 1
As much as we’d love it to be, Christmas TV can’t be all stories of festive cheer, Christmas miracles and carol singing, and this year’s Christmas special of Call the Midwife is a prime example.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, it’s about a group of midwives and nuns who provide medical care to pregnant women in 1950s poverty-stricken East London. As you can tell, it’s not exactly The Muppet Christmas Carol. The series is a bit of a weird one – it alternates indiscriminately between period quirks and woefully bleak medical scenes, and it’s never quite clear what sort of programme it’s meant to be. Strangely, it works.
For example, this year’s episode includes the story of the twee and matronly Chummy (played by Miranda Hart) putting on the Parish Nativity play with her group of Scouts, as well as the story of an underage pregnancy and an elderly vagrant lady in need of care. This constant flitting between typical Christmas fluff and crushingly depressing reality (the TV series is based on real-life memoirs) sets the show above and beyond predictable, normal Christmas telly.
It’s tough to fault the acting as well, with Miranda Hart surprisingly giving one of the episode’s stand-out performances. If your knowledge of Miranda Hart don’t go beyond that terrible sitcom, then prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Even if you’d rather pull your eyes out than watch yet another BBC period drama, Call the Midwife is outstanding, and clearly one of the highlights of this year’s Christmas schedule. This is just the first series, but it’s already the BBC’s most popular new drama, with an average audience of 8.7 million people that will surely be topped this Christmas Day – it’s easy to see why.
It’s tough to criticise a programme that manages to show both farting Nuns and post-war social drama in the same show, but there’s a chance that it’s just too sad to be a Christmas programme. In the words of Andy Williams, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year – no-one wants to spend it weeping in front of the telly. At the very least, you’ll finish the episode much sadder than you were at the beginning, and sadness ain’t very festive.
Still, it has the guts to avoid a saccharine ending where all the factory workers in East London live
happily ever after, and you have to respect that. Essential viewing.