Tuning in to the final five minutes of the most recent series of Call the Midwife, to scenes of the nuns and nurses joined by other members of their community celebrating Sister Monica Joan’s birthday, you may assume this to be another heart-warming, easy-going period drama. In many ways, you wouldn’t be far wrong. The displays of unconditional love, both romantic and platonic, intertwined with the selfless acts of many of the series’ characters make Call the Midwife suitable Sunday evening viewing. So what makes this so different from all the other period dramas adorning our screens today?
A period drama that responds to modern day issues, Call the Midwife carries us down a road of unexpected twists and heart-wrenching turns. Though the series may end with a comforting scene, in getting to this point the show discusses issues prevalent in today’s society including feminism, homophobia, alcoholism and racism, in an often harrowing manner. Set in Poplar, East London, in the 1950s, the series masterfully tackles social, cultural and economic issues of the time, which often remain topical in contemporary society.
Take, for example, the arrival of Nurse Lucile Anderson (Leonie Elliot) from the West Indies. Nurse Anderson joins the midwives at Nonnatus House, providing an essential service to the poverty-stricken area. In scenes that are often difficult to watch, Nurse Anderson experiences racial prejudice whilst trying to help her local community. Though this storyline is evidently fitting with the setting of the show, it draws on issues still lingering today. With our NHS relying so heavily on valuable staff members from other countries, it is devastating to think that many of these people may encounter similar issues as those faced by Nurse Anderson. By discussing such problems in a setting that we may wish to see as old fashioned or perhaps even backward, we are encouraged to question the society in which we now live.
Call the Midwife has often been praised for its potent feminist message, with strong female leads and portrayals of brave women, and this series is certainly no exception. From a pregnant stripper who gallantly decides not to put her child up for adoption and follows her heart in setting up a dancing school, to a young woman who faces raising her child alone as her husband is sentenced to jail, we see women who remain determined and positive in the face of adversity.
Therefore, if an empowering period drama with relevance to today’s society is what you’re after, Call the Midwife is certainly a series for you. But be warned, it’s never an easy ride at Nonnatus House – have the tissues ready!
Image: Laura Radford via BBC / Neal Street Productions