The Vic­to­rian House of Arts and Crafts

Fri­day, BBC Two, 9pm

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - WEEKENDTV -

After a dra­matic Christ­mas episode, our ex­cite­ment lev­els were raised even higher for se­ries eight of Call The Mid­wife. Thank­fully, the wait is over. Set in 1964, it will see fa­mil­iar faces in Po­plar’s Non­na­tus House joined by two new nuns, who are thrown right into the ac­tion.

And you can be sure there will be plenty of heart­break­ing, heart­warm­ing and hu­mor­ous mo­ments as the hugely pop­u­lar show con­tin­ues (ad­mit it, you sob at ev­ery episode).

We saw Nurse Trixie Franklin — played by Brum­mie He­len Ge­orge (34) — re­turn un­ex­pect­edly from her time away in Italy in the Christ­mas episode.

Re­freshed and seem­ing like her trou­bles are be­hind her, she’s back to work. And se­ries eight sees her be part of some­thing pi­o­neer­ing — the first smear test to take place in Lon­don.

“The doc­tor starts to do it and she takes over from his lead,” ex­plains Ge­orge, who’s also known for film, The Three Mus­ke­teers. “But she pushes the first ini­tia­tive for smear tests in Lon­don. That was re­ally in­ter­est­ing to push that story for­ward and think, ‘Gosh, it was the Six­ties and that’s not ac­tu­ally that long ago’.”

There’s a “re­ally in­ter­est­ing” her­maph­ro­dite sto­ry­line Ge­orge is in­volved in, too.

“It’s one which you wouldn’t think would be on Call The Mid­wife,” she says. “I don’t know why, but with my mod­ern eyes, it felt like a mod­ern sto­ry­line. But that’s what we are dealing with in the early-Six­ties.

“It brings to­gether the med­i­cal side with the emo­tional tur­moil she has to face, as she’s just about to get mar­ried to her fi­ance, so it re­ally ric­o­chets over sev­eral mem­bers of her fam­ily.

“It was fas­ci­nat­ing to do. I think Heidi (Thomas, the show’s writer) is also very clever with that. Call The Mid­wife is al­ways timely.”

How­ever, Taun­ton-born Jenny Agut­ter (66), who has starred as Sis­ter Juli­enne in Call The Mid­wife since it first hit our screens in 2012, says the world of Po­plar is dif­fer­ent from when the show started.

“One of the big changes in terms of sto­ry­lines is hav­ing come from a world where you don’t have any­thing, to hav­ing a world where sud­denly it seems like there are many, many more choices,” she says.

“For the nuns, that’s thrown up very par­tic­u­larly, be­cause we’ve been through the First World War, the Se­cond World War. One’s liv­ing in a so­ci­ety that’s be­com­ing af­flu­ent and even in Po­plar, there is more choice — al­though the com­mu­nity is held to­gether be­cause it’s not as rich as other places.”

Jen­nifer Kirby (28), who plays Nurse Va­lerie Dyer, re­veals there’s an abor­tion sto­ry­line in the first episode.

And this leads to the is­sue be­ing a defini­tive theme across the se­ries, she says.

“There are fur­ther cases down the line — I don’t want to spoil any­thing, but Va­lerie takes it to heart in a way, be­cause she is so con­nected to that com­mu­nity. It’s where she’s from, it’s where she’s lived most of her life.”

We are even in­tro­duced to her gran, played by EastEnders and Wid­ows star, Ann Mitchell. “She’s amaz­ing in it,” gushes Kirby, who was raised in the West Mid­lands and whose first on­go­ing screen role was Call The Mid­wife. “No act­ing re­quired, when I met her, I thought she was the kind­est, nicest per­son and she’s a won­der­ful ac­tor.”

You might still be re­cov­er­ing from Char­lotte Ritchie’s de­par­ture from the show (her char­ac­ter, Nurse Barbara Here­ward, trag­i­cally died from sep­sis at the end of se­ries seven).

How­ever, the ex­cit­ing news is there are a few new faces this se­ries, who we al­ready met in the fes­tive episode.

Miriam Mar­golyes por­trays Sis­ter Mil­dred, whose char­ac­ter is bound to shake things up in Po­plar now she has taken her place as Mother Su­pe­rior at the Or­der’s Mother House.

Mean­while, close friends Sis­ter Hilda (played by Fenella Wool­gar) and Sis­ter Frances (Ella Bruc­co­leri) are two nuns who have al­ready been liv­ing to­gether in the Mother House and now find them­selves mov­ing to Non­na­tus house to live and work.

So, how did Wool­gar find film­ing her first birth scenes?

“It is quite weird, I sup­pose,” ad­mits the 49-year-old, whose stand­out past TV and film roles in­clude Bright Young Things, Doc­tor Who and Har­lots. “I’ve had chil­dren, but I’ve never had to do it the other way.”

The fact that it’s of­ten a real new­born baby be­ing used in the birth scenes is “quite in­tim­i­dat­ing”, she ad­mits.

“They are long days and in­cred­i­bly con­cen­trated,” elab­o­rates Wool­gar. “Hav­ing the real mum and dad there can be stress­ful — un­less they are on baby num­ber three, in which case they are like, ‘Get on with it’.” Call The Mid­wife, BBC One, Sun­day, 8pm

There was a time when, if you said you were in­ter­ested in crafts, peo­ple would look at you as if you were crazy, but now craft­ing is cool. The in­spi­ra­tion for the sud­den boom in craft­ing is a mys­tery. Some have sug­gested that, dur­ing a time of aus­ter­ity, we have taken up a “make do and mend” men­tal­ity; pro­grammes such as The Great Bri­tish Sew­ing Bee have also helped.

Anita Rani, Keith Brymer Jones and Patch Rogers have now kicked off The Vic­to­rian House of Arts and Crafts on BBC Two, which expands the craft­ing idea even fur­ther.

The first episode in­tro­duced view­ers to six ex­perts in their field, who have taken up an ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenge: they will spend time liv­ing by the ethos of the Arts and Crafts move­ment while ren­o­vat­ing a prop­erty in its trade­mark style.

The se­cond episode sees the vol­un­teers at­tempt­ing to make a dou­ble bed and bed­spread, a clock and a wall dec­o­ra­tion in just one week, us­ing only the tools that would have been avail­able to their Vic­to­rian coun­ter­parts.

They also con­tinue to live com­mu­nally in the hope of bet­ter un­der­stand­ing the drive for artis­tic and so­cial change, but the pres­sures of be­ing so close to­gether take their toll.

Ce­ram­i­cist Brymer Jones says: “The crafters liv­ing and work­ing to­gether in the house and grow­ing as a group re­ally re­flects what the Arts and Crafts move­ment was all about.”

See if you agree with him by tun­ing into the lat­est episode and the rest of the se­ries, which is set to run for the next two weeks.

Fenella Wool­gar as Sis­ter Hilda and (in­set) He­len Ge­orge in the show

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