Alison Rowat on the return of Vera and Call the Midwife
Call the Midwife (BBC1)
BODYGUARD, what Bodyguard? Paisley’s Richard Madden has picked up plaudits galore, and a Golden Globe, for his Sunday night stint as a close protection officer, but normal weekend business was resumed last night when TV’S other golden girls returned.
Call the Midwife and Vera have notched up 17 series between them, making a mockery of the assumption that women-led dramas do not do as well as male-dominated ones.
Both these shows continue to succeed because they work to finely honed formulas and, in the case of Vera, the magnificent Brenda Blethyn playing the Geordie detective (note to Richard M: Blethyn’s got a Golden Globe too, pet, and two Oscar nominations).
Call the Midwife has now reached the giddy days of 1964. The Queen is expecting a new baby, which is the talk of the midwives at Nonnatus House in Poplar, east London. That, plus the arrival of shiny new bags to replace the old leather ones, and two new nuns, one fresh out of training, the other a jolly old hand used to east end ways.
First task of the day for Nurse Anderson was a home birth in one of the new tower blocks. Dad, present and assisting, asked if he could see the baby “coming out”. Nurse Anderson did not think that was a good idea. “You’re doing just fine with that gas mask, Mr White. I wouldn’t get too ambitious.”
The toasty, Victoria Woodstyle humour of Call the Midwife was as ever balanced by a clear-eyed look at the tougher side of life for women of the time. The new mother’s sister couldn’t help at the birth because she had been up all night with a dicky tummy. Alarm bells rang. Rightly as it turned out. The victim of a botched abortion, she needed urgent care, but a hospital was out of bounds in case the police were called. With nowhere else to turn she threw herself on the mercy of Nonnatus House. What followed made for harrowing scenes in which we saw little, but heard enough to know what was happening.
The other emergency of the night was a multiple birth, which became so tricky it was no longer a case of call the midwife but phone for the gloriously named “Obstetrics Flying Squad”. One imagined a Sweeney-type gang of brutes booting down the door to the maternity ward and shouting, “Get yer breathing sorted mum, or you’re nicked!” They were not needed, with good old rubber tubing, administered by the doctor’s Scots wife, performing one of the night’s miracles. Not a dry eye in the house. As ever in Call the Midwife, the floors needed a mop, too.
Over on STV at the same time – well done, schedulers – Vera returned, sailing into view again like some ocean going liner, if ocean going liners could wear mud coloured trench coats and green hats. The drama began with the sight of a woman’s body dumped on a landfill. One expects better, something less sensationalist, from Vera, even if DCI Stanhope did tell the pathologist to act quickly because “I don’t want her lying there any longer than she has to”.
The next two hours, packed with a shoal of red herrings and satisfying twists, flew by. The creation of novelist Ann Cleeves, who also writes Shetland, Vera is as commanding a presence as DI Jimmy Perez, but with a nicely barbed wit besides. While there will be no stopping a Bodyguard comeback, Madden should know he has a fight on his hands for Sunday nights.
Left, the ever-popular Call the Midwife has now reached 1964, tackling all the trials and tribulations the era throws at its characters. Below, Brenda Blethyn shines as Vera.