Drama that still delivers
Call the Midwife is back with more babies and more drama. MARION McMULLEN finds out what’s in store for the Nonnatus House team
CALL the Midwife veteran Jenny Agutter says change is on the way as the award-winning drama reaches 1966, but don’t expect the nuns to start switching their habits for mini-skirts.
“It is set in 1966, which is a thrilling time,” says Jenny, who plays midwife boss Sister Julienne. “There is a lot going on, such as the exploration of space. It is also the year that England won the World Cup. So a lot of exciting things are happening. “Episode one this year is all about trying to create a possible future, modernising, and doing things differently so that the order can move into the modern age. “There’s a sense that it may no longer fit into the modern community, and Sister Julienne is certainly addressing that.
“She looks at the possibility of raising money through working outside of the order to be able to bring money back into the community.
“There’s also the possibility of wearing a different habit. I know that Sister Julienne would like to see those changes happen, but by the same token, it’s quite hard to see them being drastically different. It’s about trying to find the right balance of where we’re going with the modernity. “They’re not going to have mini-skirts, I don’t think! “As the 10th series starts, the residents of Nonnatus House must determine whether a private clinic venture will generate much-needed income.
The plan causes great tension and Sister Julienne and Dr Turner (Stephen McGann) who is strongly against private health care, have their first falling out in more than 20 years. “Call the Midwife is groundbreaking because it deals with problems full on,” says Jenny “without stepping back from them or trying to excuse them or to make them OK or to give characters a happy ending. I’m so proud to have been a part of this show.”
The 68-year-old has been with Call the Midwife since the beginning and admits she was thrown when she first read the script for the drama.
“When I read the first ever script, I remember thinking, ‘Goodness me’.
“I kept looking at the date, and it was 1958 going into 59, but the way they were handling everything seemed Victorian.
“I suppose it was still the post-war era, and you still very much had the sense of that community trying to get its strength back again.
“But over the next 10 years, a lot of growth happened. There was a shift in the community, and different problems arose as people became better off.
“The more people had and the more possibilities they had, the more they seemed to want to give up the responsibility of taking care of community, which I think is something that Sister Julienne worries about because she’s gone through two world wars, when there was such reliance on people working together to get through things. “In the immediate post-war years, there’s still that reliance on community to make things happen. “But after that, there seems to be
Call the Midwife is groundbreaking because it deals with problems full on, without stepping back from them or trying to excuse them or to make them OK or to give characters a happy ending. I’m so proud to have been a part of this show
much more reliance on the social set-up. People are asking, ‘What can the government do for me now? What can society do for me now?’ as opposed to the reverse. “People are no longer asking so much, ‘What can I do to help us get where we we’re going?’” The BBC has announced two further series of the drama, written by Heidi Thomas, which has won multiple awards across the decade for its depiction of challenging medical stories which are tackled by the nuns and midwives of Poplar.
The Christmas specials attract an enormous audience for BBC1 with more than nine million viewers tuning in.
Helen George, 36, who is back as Trixie, says: “Episode one is very exciting for Trixie. She is asked by Sister Julienne to go to the Lady Emily Clinic, which is a private clinic in Chelsea. “Her task is to observe exactly how their systems work and how their midwifery functions. “Delivery at the Lady Emily Clinic is a more doctor-led process. The thought is that Nonnatus House will rent out midwives and nuns to the Lady Emily to help out with the deliveries and to staff the practice. In return, they’ll get paid, and Nonnatus House will be saved. But we’ll have to wait for episode two to find out if it goes well or not!”
Helen, who has played Trixie since the show started in 2012, says her character has been on a “huge journey”.
“It’s been fascinating to watch her develop from this bubbly, blonde, best-friend type character, and then delving into her past and seeing the relationship with her parents and what made her come into nursing,” she says.
“It was really interesting to work with Trixie’s alcohol problem as well. There’s been such a change to her character over the last decade. It’s been fascinating to play and to be involved with someone else’s life for so long.”