Why I Love: Call the Midwife

by | Feb 3, 2012 | All, Reviews

Before I get started I think it best that I introduce myself and tell you a bit about me. My name is Cameron and I’m a man.  

Now we have gotten that  out of the way I have another confession to make and want to shout it out. “I’M A MAN AND I ENJOY CALL THE MIDWIFE!!” And I’m not alone as 10m people are tuning into enjoy this Sunday night phenomenon each week. Now I know what some of you reading this are thinking “But you’re a man! You don’t have a uterus! You weren’t alive in the fifties! Why are you watching that show?” There’s a simple answer to why I watch and it’s the same answer that the rest of the Call The Midwife fans will give you. I watch it because it’s good. Based on a successful set of books containing the memoirs of former midwife Jennifer Worth, these were turned into a series by Mrs Sunday Night Heidi Thomas. A writer who has given us the revived, and soon to return, Upstairs Downstairs and Cranford amongst others.   

With Call The Midwife Heidi has created a popular but I would say atypical Sunday night drama. It’s not your usual “chocolate box” drama some of these chocolates have a hard centre. It shows life and birth can be hard & painful as well as fun & optimistic. This drama isn’t sugar coated or easy going. There aren’t cute animals or endless vistas of beautiful countryside to make you go “ahhh” like most Sunday night dramas.  You’re more likely to see a birth scene that will make you go “ewww” instead. We see an austere East End of Britain in the 1950s; still feeling the effects of World War II, yet to experience the excitement of the swinging sixties and where medical care that we take for granted now is almost non-existent. Life is tough. You can just picture people watching that lived through that era nodding their heads knowingly. While younger viewers shake their heads and think to themselves that they’re very glad they live now.  Yet within this setting Call The Midwife also has funny and punch the air uplifting moments featuring a cast of likeable characters. It’s a winning combination that has worked its magic on people across the country. In the space of 2 episodes a nation has become fascinated by the people of Nonnatus House. I’m not surprised it was a hit but I’m very surprised that it has become such a big hit.   

Its ratings performance makes for impressive reading. The overnight audience for episode 1 of 8m was the highest overnight audience for a new drama launch on BBC1 since Robin Hood’s 8.2m in October 2006. The final consolidated rating for episode 1 of 9.83m is BBC1’s biggest official new drama launch in a decade since Spooks debuted with 9.6m in May 2002. The overnight ratings for episode 2 went up to 8.6m, which isn’t just rare for a new drama but also rare for most programmes and the consolidated rating for episode 2 was 10.47m.  Usually when overnight figures increase timeshifted viewing decreases, that’s due to more of the audience that were recording it choosing to watch live instead. But the timeshifts for episode 1 & 2 were virtually identical with 1.8m recording. It’s been adding viewers. For all the trailers, magazine features and interviews the most effective promotions  good word of mouth. 

Call The Midwife’s ratings trajectory has been described as Downton Abbey like and mirrors the performance of series 1 of ITV’s Sunday night megahit. I would say Call The Midwife’s performance is slightly more impressive when you consider these factors. Downton Abbey was following the most popular show on British television on Sunday nights in The X Factor, plus it had minimal competition during its run. Call The Midwife on the other hand gets a smaller lead in from Countryfile and faces two established Sunday night hits in Dancing On Ice and Wild At Heart. With all of these things working against it, the fact Call The Midwife has been able to rate higher than its competition and get the ratings it has is extraordinary. A true self starter. 

Its audience appreciation (AI) scores are no less impressive. These are calculated by viewers of a programme answering questions on what they thought of a it and giving total marks out of 100. Anything over 80 is considered good. Episode 1 had an AI of 86, episode 2 was 90 and episode 3 was 91. High rated programmes don’t usually score that highly and scores over 90 are in the truly excellent category. People are watching the show and loving it. We are witnessing the birth of a phenomenon.  

Talking about the show’s incredible ratings performance I should take a moment to give praise to the people that make the show work, those in front of and behind the camera. A great cast has been assembled with a mix of established talent & upcoming actors who will soon become household names. There is not one weak link among them. While it is an ensemble, and a talented one at that, it is Midwife Jenny played by Jessica Raine, that we see the most of during the show. Much of the story is told from her viewpoint, with Vanessa Redgrave, yes that’s right THE OSCAR WINNING VANESSA REDGRAVE, providing the voiceover of older Jenny looking back on her adventures as a midwife. 

Miranda got the author’s blessing.

Alongside Jessica there’s Helen George as Trixie, Bryony Hannah as Cynthia and Miranda Hart as the wonderfully named  Camilla Cholomondely-Browne aka Chummy for short (thankfully). Chummy’s real name is so long that when writing it down I wouldn’t be surprised if she got through two pens before she reached the end of it. And for anybody that thinks Miranda Hart  isn’t right for the role, she was given Jennifer Worth’s blessing as being ideal as she reminded Jennifer so much of her friend Chummy. You can’t get a better endorsement than from the author herself. So those are the other midwives and Jenny’s partners in grime.  

Then we have the nuns Jenny Agutter as the considerate Sister Julienne, Pam Ferris as the tough but fair Sister Evangelina, Judy Parfitt as the cake loving Sister Monica Joan and Laura Main as the young Sister Bernadette. The women do have men in their lives Cliff Parisi as handyman Fred, Ben Caplan as PC Noakes and Stephen McGann as Dr Turner. All of these characters have a likeability to them which I think can’t always be taught in an acting class. You have to exude it and they do.

Actors are nothing without a script and with Heidi Thomas being creator and writer for the series they have one of the absolute best. The BAFTA and Emmy nominee has brought the characters to life and given us funny, sad, enjoyable and tragic moments. We’re seeing a writer firing on all cylinders and at the top of their creative game. The biggest plaudits though must be reserved for Jennifer Worth, the author of the successful books that have become a successful series. She brought the midwives and that period in history to the audience in the first place and had a hand in casting many of the actors and choosing some of the production team. Jennifer sadly didn’t live to see what a wonderful show her books were turned into. This baby was hers, she helped deliver it but sadly missed its first steps. I think she would have been very proud with how it turned out.  

Call The Midwife is an emotional rollercoaster of a show. It’s given us a nail-biting scene involving Chummy dealing with a breech birth, heartbreak when old Joe dies in a nursing home, romance with Chummy and her uniformed suitor and this is just the start.  More laughs and tears are on the way with the remainder of this first series and second longer 8 part series for 2013. I enjoy it and if you’re not watching give it a go as you just might like it. If you don’t like it I say you’re missing out on one of the best programmes on television at the moment.  

And remember!  Keep calm and call the midwife! 

Are you one of the 10million in love with Call the Midwife? Let us know below.

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