Born for this

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TELEVISION - LYNN CAMERON

TAK­ING on the lead role in any TV se­ries is a daunt­ing busi­ness but, when that se­ries is based on a best- sell­ing tril­ogy writ­ten by a pop­u­lar and highly- re­spected per­son­al­ity and, when it’s your first ma­jor act­ing role, nerves can get some­what frayed.

Such was the sit­u­a­tion in which 29- yearold British ac­tor Jes­sica Raine found her­self when she won the lead role of Jenny Lee in Call the Mid­wife, the BBC adaptation of Jen­nifer Worth’s mem­oirs of her time spent as a mid­wife in Lon­don dur­ing the 1950s.

‘‘ I hadn’t done much film­ing be­fore and I was a bit scared of the cam­era,’’ ad­mits Raine, whose pre­vi­ous act­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was lim­ited to a small part in TV se­ries Gar­row’s Law and an­other in 2010 movie Robin Hood ( star­ring Rus­sell Crowe).

‘‘ It was just ter­ri­fy­ing but ev­ery­one was very sup­port­ive.’’

In­deed, sup­port­ing Raine along the way on and off- screen are vet­eran ac­tors Judy Parfitt, Pam Ferris and Jenny Agut­ter, as well as Os­car- win­ner Vanessa Red­grave, who plays the voice of the ma­ture Lee.

And it looks as though the gam­ble of cast­ing a rel­a­tively un­known ac­tor in the lead role has paid off.

Call the Mid­wife turned out to be the most suc­cess­ful BBC drama in the past 10 years, it also beat Down­ton Abbey in the rat­ings war.

A sec­ond sea­son was com­mis­sioned af­ter just two episodes of sea­son one had aired in the UK. It’s been a sim­i­lar suc­cess story in Aus­tralia, where the de­but episode fell just short of one mil­lion.

The se­ries has fol­lowed newly- qual­i­fied mid­wife Jenny Lee as she em­barks on her ca­reer in the poverty- stricken East End of Lon­don. Raised in the wealthy English coun­try­side, Lee knows noth­ing about poverty, hard­ship or, in­deed, life it­self.

Her ar­rival at one of the poor­est parts of Lon­don is an eye opener and a steep learn­ing curve for the nurse.

Iron­i­cally, for Raine, play­ing the ner­vous Lee proved to be some­thing of a com­fort for her own nerves.

‘‘ It was a weird par­al­lel, be­cause I was scared and Jenny didn’t know what she was do­ing and I didn’t know what I was do­ing,’’ she laughs.

The streets that greet Lee are a world away from what she is used to. Fam­i­lies of be­tween six and 10 chil­dren are com­mon and, with just one eight- bed ma­ter­nity ward to serve the whole dis­trict, most de­liv­er­ies take place at home, few of which have in­door san­i­ta­tion or hot run­ning wa­ter.

‘‘ When I read the script, I thought, ‘ This can’t be true’,’’ Raine says. ‘‘ I can­not fathom the con­di­tions they lived in.

‘‘ I re­mem­ber want­ing it to just be real and not pret­tify it or make it grue­some. But you’re go­ing to wince!’’

But it’s not just all blood, sweat and tears. There’s also a deep sense of ca­ma­raderie be­tween the mid­wives, the nuns and the pa­tients.

‘‘ All of the women have a re­silience and hu­mour,’’ Raines ex­plains. ‘‘ There’s no room for bitch­i­ness be­cause you’re so tired. All of them, which I thought was so re­fresh­ing, they’re so em­pa­thetic . . . There’s a real heart and a real love.’’

CALL THE MID­WIFE, Sun­day, ABC1, 8.30pm

LEAD­ING LADY: Jes­sica Raine as Jenny Lee is all nerves in Call The Mid­wife.

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