Monday, 23 January 2017

"Call the Midwife" (season 5): a television review (SPOILER ALERTS)

Now that the fifth season of Call the Midwife will soon be shown on free-to-air television in Australia (ABC-TV, Saturday evenings), here are some reflections based on when I viewed this series on DVD early last year.  (I'm not sure why DVD versions of some overseas television series are sold by retailers here in Australia as early as a year before they're seen on free-to-air TV, but I'm glad they are.)

This season confronts a range of significant social issues with the same honesty and commitment as earlier seasons.  As this series is set in the early 1960s, such medical-related issues of the day as the relationship of thalidomide use and birth defects are strongly in evidence, as is a story line on the growing concern over the health impact of smoking.  (SPOILER ALERT:  And, yes, the doctor finally gave up the smokes.)

The developing same-gender relationship of two of the nurses is blossoming, and is treated by the two nurses involved with the sense of it being something clandestine as would have been expected in the 1960s.

Trixie is dealing with her alcoholism by (SPOILER ALERT) trading one addiction for another and becoming a 1960s precursor to a 1980s "gym junkie".  (I always found the "Trixie-is-an-alcoholic" storyline a bit unconvincing.  Yes, she enjoyed a drink or three.  But her drinking only became a problem during the time when her engagement went down the tubes in the previous season.  Cut the lady some slack.  If anything, I've always thought her constant smoking was a greater potential problem for Trixie.)

As with other series of CTM, there is a wedding and a funeral providing the emotional "heart" of the series.  (I won't provide spoilers as to whose wedding or whose funeral they are.)

As a clergy-type myself, I'm personally impressed by the way the vicar and the community of nuns are portrayed.

Jack Ashton's Tom Hereward is rapidly becoming one of my favourite TV clerics.  He's without caricature, whether the caricature is that of:
  • the impossible perfection of Mark Williams's Father Brown or the late William Christopher's Father Mulcahy,
  • the overwhelming self-confidence of Dawn French's Geraldine Grainger, or
  • the "Moe, Larry, and Curly"-ness of the inhabitants of the Craggy Island Parochial House.
Tom Hereward is utterly decent, utterly flawed, and always utterly human. 

But the real heroes of Call the Midwife (in each season and in each episode) are the members of the small community of Anglican nuns who make up the Sisters of St. Raymond Nonnatus.  (And, yes, there really was a St. Raymond Nonnatus.) 

Trained nurse-midwives as well as nuns, they work in the most trying conditions.  They have a great local knowledge and a deep understanding of human nature.  In contrast to our culture's stereotype of people of faith (and particularly those whose "day job" relates to their faith), they show a great acceptance of human weakness and human foibles.  They are always there for the families they serve, the young nurse-midwives they support, and for each other.

As a positive (yet rarely "preachy") portrayal of people of faith, Call the Midwife is always a pleasure.

While it's always easy for any popular series to "jump the shark" into the realms of predictability and self-parody, this season of Call the Midwife is easily as excellent as its predecessors.

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