Call the Midwife: Season One (BBC/DVD)
A moving, intimate, funny and, above all, true-to-life look at the colorful stories of midwifery and families in East London in the Fifties, based on the best-selling memoirs of the late Jennifer Worth. When Jenny Lee first arrives in Poplar, she knows nothing about hardship, poverty or indeed, life itself. Attached to an order of nursing nuns at Nonnatus House, Jenny is part of a team of midwives who visit expectant mothers, providing the poorest women with the best possible care. Here, the streets teem with children and with just one eight-bed maternity ward to serve the whole district; most deliveries take place at home. Following Jenny as she travels through the streets to meet her patients - like Conchita, who is on her 25th pregnancy and Mary, a prostitute and pregnant at just 15 - Call the Midwife offers a fascinating insight into a community on the brink of huge social change.
]]> In drawing from the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the BBC's Call the Midwife
instantly distinguished itself from most other medical dramas, largely because it's a more character-driven piece. Jessica Raine, who evokes the openhearted Judy Garland of The Wizard of Oz
, plays Jenny Lee, a middle-class 22-year-old who takes a job at an Anglican convent in 1957, where the young nurses work alongside experienced nuns: calm Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter), stern Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris), and spacey, cake-addicted Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt, who costarred with Ferris in Little Doritt
Jenny is hardy judgmental, but the depth of poverty permeating London's East End provides a wake-up call (suffice to say, gynecological care has come a long way since the 1950s). To be effective, though, she must learn to put her preconceptions aside about teenage prostitutes, unwed mothers, squalid living conditions, and inappropriate relationships. Her upper-class colleague, Camilla "Chummy" Cholomondley-Browne (Miranda Hart, quite affecting), seems like she'd be even deeper out of her depth, but looks can be deceiving--even if Chummy finds it harder to handle the bikes the nurses use to cycle between appointments. Written by Cranford's Heidi Thomas and narrated by Vanessa Redgrave, the show has proven to be as much of a favorite among PBS viewers as ITV's Downton Abbey, to which it's garnered a few comparisons, possibly due to the period setting, even if there's a greater emphasis on women's issues. If anything, the postwar milieu brings the films of Terence Davies and Mike Leigh to mind, particularly Leigh's Vera Drake, in which Imelda Staunton provided off-the-books care to desperate mothers. Though Worth was involved with the spectacularly successful first season, she passed away two weeks before filming began. --Kathleen C. Fennessy