Call The Midwife Christmas Special 2020
Call The Midwife is one of those shows that it’s pretty uncool to love. With a decidedly twee tone, a cast of nuns, midwives, and a gentle doctor, it casts a rose-tinted glance back at working class life in 1950s and 60s London. However, the production has always taken the time to make the show more progressive than the tone suggests. They regularly cast disabled actors to play disabled characters, with one regular cast member having Down’s Syndrome. Each series has a theme that is as relevant to now as it was in the time it is set, with focuses on the importance of vaccination, the dangers of smoking, domestic violence and poverty.
The most hitting of these being the series eight plotline around a series of backstreet abortions causing deaths and permanent damage to women in desperate circumstances. No doubt this was designed to encourage particular ways of thinking in response to the possibility of the change to abortion laws in the US, and continued illegality surrounding pro choice politics in Northern Ireland; abortion was only decriminalised in Northern Ireland in July 2019. Before that, if a pregnant person wanted an abortion they had to travel to mainland UK to receive it.
We left series nine early in 2020, with a grieving nurse Valerie Dyer (Jennifer Kirby), and a potential closure for Nonnatus House as the NHS begins to move into the form we know it as now; with community nursing being replaced by centralised hospital care. In the months since series nine, the production of Call The Midwife - as with many shows - has faced huge delays in the ability of production crews to work and make things for us to watch. The social media pages for Call The Midwife have been busy with images of them resuming work as early as they could, while keeping the cast and crew safe with social distancing, masks and buckets of hand sanitiser. This change to shooting style is well handled in the episode; clever angles disguise the fact that the cast are sitting further apart than we might expect and birth scenes now have the returning cast (not the mothers) wearing masks when they didn't before, apart from in exceptional circumstances.
When we join our cast, Nurse Dyer has disappeared to their Hope Clinic in South Africa (as featured in the 2016 Christmas Special) to deal with her loss. Other changes are afoot, as Fred Buckle (Cliff Parisi) opens a newsagents, presumably to compliment the waning profits from Violet’s (Annabelle Apsion) haberdashery store, as more people move towards mass produced clothing. The bulk of the episode focuses on the lives of two expectant mothers, one, Gloria Venables (Katie Lyons) who is now at 38 weeks pregnant after suffering through seven miscarriages, and another, Jacquetta Ellings (Lizzy Watts) who is part of a travelling circus and has a seriously anxious and unwell father (Peter Davison). They address the issue of miscarriage grief incredibly delicately, as it is something that affects so many people. The stigma surrounding it is exposed to be damaging, and each of Gloria’s earlier pregnancies is given a chance to be grieved for as she welcomes her baby into the world.
Jacquetta’s father’s anxiety stems from the loss of her mother during her own birth, and as Jacquetta's labour has some issues this comes to a head towards the end of the episode. Once again, a source of grief that isn’t often talked about is given screen time. Fathers quite often have PTSD from their experiences watching their partner give birth and this is rarely given the time of day or exposure it should be.
One more frustrating storyline has Nurse Trixie Franklin (Helen George) encouraged to join a dating agency, as her family is unable to see past her single status to her achievements. While the storyline is potentially true of the time period, and it ends well, it is still a slightly irritating inclusion that brings to light the frustration of so many women, where they are reduced to accessories of men rather than worthwhile people in their own right.
The Christmas special was a good addition to the ongoing saga of Call The Midwife, though not as strong or hard hitting as some of the earlier episodes. It holds its own for the extended runtime (this episode is 90 minutes rather than the usual 60) and doesn’t disappoint, ending with a positive note which is encouraging for the next season.
Every episode of Call the Midwife is currently available on BBC iPlayer.