All three of us here at Frock Flicks HQ gave a resounding “meh” to Call the Midwife (2012-) in one of our Oh the Bad Movies & TV Shows You’ll Watch round-ups. Many commenters stood up for the show despite our summation of the boring costumes and stories we didn’t get into. Fair enough!
I didn’t think much of it again, until, well … I’ve had an epically shitty year, what with a wayward soon-to-be ex-husband and moving to a new home and blah blah blah. Basically, everything has felt super stressful and sad, and for me, that comes to a head on Sunday nights before the lengthy work-week starts up. And somehow, I found myself on PBS where Call the Midwife was playing, and I let it play one weekend. And the next. And the next. And I kinda found myself enjoying that mild 45 minutes or so of good-natured, historical, medical drama that was all tidily wrapped up before Masterpiece. Here’s why…
It’s a female-focused show
We love that at Frock Flicks! I even mentioned this as Call the Midwife‘s one saving grace when I initially dismissed the show. All the main characters are women, a diversity of different ages, races, and backgrounds, good girls, serious women, silly ladies, slightly devious ladies, all kinds of females. These are some great roles for actresses, and I enjoy watching them.
It can be charmingly funny
Especially Miriam Margolyes as Mother Mildred in the currently playing series 8! She’s fucking hilarious. Also, Cliff Parisi as handyman Fred Buckle and Annabelle Apsion as his wife Violet Buckle, who runs a hat shop, that pair are goofy, sometimes bickering, always caring, and a nice contrast to all the medical stuff.
It feels progressive / liberal
At least by American standards, the attitudes within the show seem fairly open-minded in regards to things like sex and race relations. Considering many of the main characters are Anglican nuns, this may not be historically accurate; I have no idea, and I honestly don’t care. Just listing it as one reason why the show appeals to me. How they deal with pregnant unmarried women and illegal abortions, for example, is full of a kindness, grace, and integrity that’s hard to find today. These things are written so deftly as to not feel hugely modern and heavy handed — maybe because they’re presented as personal acts of generosity that it doesn’t feel like a stridently modern intervention.
It shows a wide slice of life
Due to the nature of the work and the location, the midwives interact with anyone and everyone around London’s East End. There’s a mix of dockworkers’ families and African and Indian immigrants, which leads to a little realistic tension, but the midwives work between it all. It’s just interesting to see the women going from house to house, dealing with different families in a range of circumstances.
It’s sentimental and easy to watch
This show asks nothing of me! This is a pat, simple series where each episode is mostly self-contained. I started watching regularly just now, season 8, and it doesn’t matter that I missed the previous seven seasons. Sure, there might be some character development I don’t know about, but it doesn’t hurt my enjoyment. This isn’t a hugely sequential storyline, there isn’t an overarching tale that I have to keep up with. I can drop in and out as I please, even within one hour. If/when my life gets better and if I get bored of Call the Midwife‘s sentimentalism, I can stop watching with no fear that I’ll miss out on how the story ends. It doesn’t! Not in any real way. And sometimes, I just need plain ol’ entertainment like that.
Plus, I realized earlier episodes are available on Netflix, so I can catch up and indulge in more uncomplicated yet not stupid historical stories any time I want. Total win!
What are your reasons for watching Call the Midwife?
I love the later series of Call the Midwife now that the show has entered the sixties. I just think it is a lovely way to spend a Sunday and darnit if I don’t end up crying at some point in every single episode. I went to a school that was founded and run by Episcopalian nuns, so this felt very familiar to me. The way the nuns interact with each other. It kind of makes me nostalgic for my childhood!
My late husband loved the show, especially Trixie. I went to an Episcopal girl’s school also, and the nuns on the series remind me so much of my school sisters whom I loved dearly. Although they wore the same habit as their Roman counterparts, they could never get the strict discipline down like the Roman Catholic nuns did, therefore allowing the inmates run the institution…or at least we thought we did.
I’m amazed a show this good is still popular. Now, if James Norton would come back to Grantchester my TV life would be complete!
I have a love/hate with the current world of the show. On the one hand, it being the 60s, there are a lot bigger and more exciting stories to tell. On the other hand, the show has taken a strikingly conservative direction. Like… a lot of these midwives are against birth control? It’s… complicated. (And I know it’s the characters, not the show, and I’m sure it’s apt for the era, but still, it’s not always fun to watch.)
Trystan, I’m sorry you’ve had such a rough year! That sounds awful.
I’m glad Call the Midwife could be one of those low-requirement comforting shows. I am thankful for that kind of entertainment sometimes.
Know that people across the internet you’ve never met would love to buy you a drink, give you a hug, and watch snark-worthy shows with you. We’re cheering you on as you get through each week.
Thank you :)
But those are the ugliest nun’s habits I’ve ever seen.
They’re correct for the period and for Anglican nuns.
Poor Anglican Nuns!
The last few seasons have told wonderful stories of women, social struggles and life. Yes, it can cause the eyes to well up. But it has dealt well with serious topics underneath that cover of sentiment. Some of which are still relevant.
And yes the tears can be a comfort against a current life. Hope yours gets better.
Yes! It’s a good show and so easy to watch. I’ve only watched the early seasons so this is a good reminder to watch the later ones.
the earlier seasons have Chummy, if you love goofier chacters =) And sister Mary Joan of course
My mom and I love Chummy.. she was awesome. Miss her.. she may come back I read somewhere.
Oh my god I miss Chummy so much.
Ok you’ve talked me into it! I’ve resisted as I don’t have kids and thus am not that interested in baby birthin’ stories, but I too have had a crap year and could use a boost. Thanks and hope things look up for all of us down here in the trenches.
i 47 i don’t know anything about childbirth but i love the nuns especially Sister Monica Joan and Sister Juliane and Shelia
ive watched every episode since the begining. i enjoyed the 50s because that’s when my English MIL was having babies
it is wounderful to see such wounderful written female characters
Mrs Buckle’s shop is a haberdashery not a hat shop
i enjoy the story line of the Buckle’s and their nephew Reggie who has Downs syndrome and i also enjoy the doctor’s family
i don’t actually miss Chummy or Barbara but i did cry when Barbara died. I do miss Sister Evanelene and Sister Mary Cynthia
i cry almost every episode
I’m happily childfree, & the birth stuff doesn’t bug me. It’s usually a small ‘finale’ in each show, while most of the hour’s story is about the midwives going about their jobs helping other women having some kind of trouble.
The memoirs the series is based on are FASCINATING, Sister Monica Joan’s backstory is NUTS, basically one of her maids was picked up for “prostitution” (for walking around to the shops unaccompanied, IIRC) and the common practice at the time was for the cops to rape the prostitutes to judge how prostitutey they were, which radicalized teenaged Monica Joan (who was the daughter of a baron or something, I forget now). Her parents forbade her from being politically or medically active in the protection of women, so she basically ran away from home to become a nun to serve women like her maid.
A lot of the stories in the memoirs are recreated in the early seasons of the show, but others aren’t, and there’s a lot of background information the memoirs give that isn’t in the show. It’s worth a read if you haven’t!
I love the series because it’s such a lovely depiction of female friendships and relationships. They’re not catty or competitive; they’re mostly mutually supportive, they disagree but care about each other anyway, they sometimes fight, they joke and tease — it’s a really rare depiction of female friendship as I as a woman have actually experienced it. TV typically prefers mean girls or at most they’ll do a pair of best friends, but women in large supportive groups is beyond most TV shows or movies. I also like that all the romantic heroes are depicted as attractive to women because they’re kind and decent — not rich or conventionally handsome.
Great description of the female relationships & why they’re enjoyable to watch. Totally agree!
I completely agree, Laura! Jennifer Worth’s memoirs are an absolute treasure trove of gorgeously written and superbly detailed stories. I recommend her books to fans of the show not just for her beautiful storytelling but also for the incredible detail and backstory that can’t realistically be included in the TV series.
I especially loved the chapters about Mrs. Jenkins, the old woman whose children had died one by one in the workhouse. Granted it was heartbreaking reading the total despair people had to reach before even entering the workhouse, followed by the unspeakable horrors that went on inside. But the way in which Worth describes herself and Sister Evangelina so lovingly caring for Mrs. Jenkins later in life communicates a sense of duty, compassion, humor, sorority, and tenderness is an example of the feelings that the show expertly distills into 30 minutes of enjoyment each week. Including the true anecdote of Sister Evangelina’s flatulence to get Mrs. Jenkins to cooperate with her!
This is one of the only shows I still watch. It’s lovely. I wind up bawling over it with my mom every week. LOL
I just love it. It does enter radical country – the earlier series contain the thalidomide scandal, which was harrowing, the attitudes towards lesbians (there is a lovely lesbian love story), the struggle to discover one’s faith, polio, illegal abortion, the Windrush phenomenon. It treats serious subjects with the gravitas they deserve without getting preachy. It’s beautifully written. Since it’s aired on Sunday nights, they can’t get too gritty, but I think that’s all to the good, since it discusses subjects without scaring people off.
And yes, Miranda Hart’s turn as Chummy is a delight.
I love that you revisited this show! I recall when you dismissed it and also the flak you got for dismissing it. I agree with you completely here! I have enjoyed myself watching the show (I’m not up to date) for all of the reasons you’ve mentioned.
I’m sorry you’re having a crap year. Sunday Night Syndrome is real, and I’m glad you’re able to appreciate some light escapist fluff during that time. Here’s to better times ahead.
Oh yeah, Sunday Night Dread is the worst in usual good times, so recently it’s been bad, & this show helped!
I much prefer the early series, which are based on the memoirs, because it’s very much the area and era my grandmother grew up in, but I still watch it as soon as its airs. The 60s stuff feels a bit more winding and has shifted away from confronting the poverty of the area, but is free to explore more issues than the books did.
Trystan, dismayed to hear about your woes. And then you plow ahead anyway, entertaining and educating your fans with well written snark! I hope your boyfriend (Jude Law is it?) is waiting for you in the wings…
Thank you :)
Netflix keeps recommending this to me. I’ll give it a go, you have introduced me to other shows and movies that I enjoyed. I, too, can use some mindless fun in my life.
Please accept another internet hug and wishes for better times ahead.
I watched most of the first season, but the episode where a sea captain prostitutes out his daughter to all the sailors broke me. Not my idea of escapism. I was never really into the childbirth scenes anyway, I hate hospitals and everything medical-related.
I am so sorry for your deeply shitty year, Trystan. Thank you so much for all you’ve contributed to the site. Frock Flicks has always been a real bright spot in my life, even when (it feels like) there are precious few bright spots to be found elsewhere.
P.S. I’m having a ton of difficulty commenting using the Safari browser, I don’t know if that’s just me or a general problem related to the site/ commenting system.
Honestly I find this show is better than Downton Abbey, the characters are more empathetic, the show deals with more issues than just class.
Also, with some exceptions they don’t do the thing Downton so often does, of lightly touching on a social issue, being inexplicably modern about it (especially considering that Downton is so much further from our era than Call The Midwife, when attitudes were very different), and then handwaving it all away with more pretty frocks. In contrast, Call The Midwife is like “sometimes it be that way tho” and then they all put on their sensible shoes and let you cry because it fucking IS sad and awful and unjust.
I absolutely love the show. I love all the seasons right from the beginning. I am collecting them on DVD right now. If people love the show read the books written by Jeniffer Worth. I also have a collection of those.
My condolences on your year. I’m glad the series gives you something nice.
I enjoy the show for the reasons you list above, and scratches an itch by being a period show featuring people rarely shown.
Trystan, welcome to the first wives club! It does get better. Trust me, I’m six years out and can say that I am so much the better for it. You will be too.
I’m so glad you changed your mind about CTMW, I have a good cry every episode. Leave it to the Brits for creating a show that feels authentic without all the shlock.
I started watching CtM because Miranda Hart was in it and I was expecting a baby. No other reason. Fell utterly in love with the show, bought all of Jennifer Worth’s memoirs (all three volumes!) and binge-watched every episode then in existence over and over. I lived seven hours away from my mom, sister and all my aunties, so the show felt like home.
And then my husband, of all people, noticed that the headaches and ankle swelling I’d been brushing off as nothing reminded him of that preeclampsia case in season two that poor Cynthia had to deal with, had my ob-gyn run a test, when the lab didn’t expedite the results, he called up the lab and I’ve never seen him that angry, ten minutes later my doctor had the results and five after that we were on the way to the hospital. Preeclampsia turned into HELLP syndrome, but the warning gave the doctors time to give me steroid shots to help our baby’s lungs. She wasn’t even three pounds and was born almost three months before her due date, but she made it, despite the emergency C-section and NICU stay.
She’s five years old now and wants to be a midwife-obstetrician when she grows up. Like Trixie. She has me play Chummy a lot and we’ve delivered the babies of several stuffed animals. The most adult content in the show goes right over her head and she has learned a surprising amount of medical stuff just through paying attention.
I often point out the clothes to her and we recently watched the original ‘Hairspray’ to compare the early Sixties fashions. She likes Valerie’s outfits best, I like Shelagh’s. Husband is just relieved some of the women have finally gotten pants and keeps bringing my mother (who just moved to our town,) iced drinks and saying “you all wore THAT with NO POCKETS?” while Mom chuckles and points out how she had this accessory of Trixie’s or that dress of Lucille’s, just in a different color, when she was nine or so.
TV doesn’t have to be unsentimental or difficult to make positive change in the world. Even if all it does is brighten someone’s Sunday, that’s still good work. Me and the kid, we mightn’t be here if I hadn’t been watching it. Fluffy, warm shows suitable for families are still good, y’know?
Delivering stuffd animal babies, that is just so cute!
Oh my god I LOVE THIS! I also had pre-eclampsia (years after starting to watch CtM, though), and thought a lot about that episode while I was in the hospital on bed rest and connected to a magnesium sulfate drip. Luckily, it happened late in my pregnancy and didn’t require a NICU stay for my tiny but healthy son, who is now almost 2.
One of the things I love about CtM is that it talks about health topics that get almost no mention anywhere else. I felt a lot more seen in one episode of CtM compared to, honestly, most of the pregnancy books I read.
I started watching with my mother and fell in love with the quiet, wholesome quality of the show. The costuming in the beginning was very drab and utilitarian as England was coming off the rationing system and textiles were very expensive. As the 60’s start the costumes get much brighter and more fun. You can also see the stories told through the costumes, especially those worn by Trixie.
As for the soon to be former husband, you deserve to be treated like the goddess you are. If he couldn’t not live up to that, then the best thing is to move on and find someone who will.
Thanks :) And I think picking it up again in the recent eps set in the ’60s prob. helped since the non-nun costumes are a bit spiffier.
I’m a sucker for this as well, although I think the latest seasons have become really saccharine. I watch anyway for basically the same reasons others have stated: it’s just so lovely, and that it’s about women interacting and supporting each other.
While the costumes may be somewhat uninteresting, I like seeing just how pretty all the women look, and how much attention they took to their appearance. I remember when that was common, not so much anymore
I love these stories (and a good cry too sometimes). My youngest daughter who lives in England (Lymington near Southampton) was expecting her first child (our first grandson) last June and My husband & I planned to be there for the birth. I told Sarah I had prepped for this (besides having 4 kids myself) by watching all of Season 8 of Call the Midwife!!!f
Now watch the earlier seasons so you can enjoy awkward, unloved Chummy as she blossoms in the Nonnatus community, finds love, and has a child. Heartwarming and funny. And enjoy the backstory of Fred and Vi before they married, and the way Reggie came into their lives. Each episode wraps up neatly, but the long story arc is rich and satisfying.
OMG… the whole storyline about the boy teaching Chummy how to ride a bicycle and how their interaction changes both their lives for the better… still makes me tear up
I very much enjoyed the earlier seasons of this show. Had no idea there were more! I’ll have to get caught up.
I wondered about the nuns’ lack of judgment, too, but the memoirs the show is based on back it up. Jennifer Worth had a very middle-class upbringing and was a bit judgmental of her patients when she first started the job, something Sister Julienne in particular always cautioned her against. The books are a fascinating read if you ever have the chance.
Ahhh, I’m a retired L&D nurse, so I can say this show makes me laugh and cry and I love every minute of it!
There’s something downright adorable that this piece looks at the current show, which has almost an entirely different cast than the first few series, and even takes place in both a historically and sartorially different era than where it started. I mean, look at these (relatively, for Call The Midwife) fabulous swinging 60s photos compared to poor Jenny Lee and those sad 50s cardigans.
Either way, whether it’s OG 50s Call The Midwife or current 60s Call The Midwife, I’m so here for all of it.