The British Elections aren’t the only newsworthy exports taking place this weekend. Netflix currently has a wide-ranging array of BBC shows for your viewing pleasure, and I plan on giving you my personal recommendations over the course of the coming months. I know you’re familiar with BBC exports Doctor Who and Top Gear, but there’s a hefty selection of programming from that channel that covers all sorts of genres. Medical dramas are a constant of American television, and the recent shockwaves sent throughout Shondaland with the demise of Grey’s Anatomy‘s McDreamy created an almighty buzz of water-cooler talk and online petitions. High-stakes medical drama series get us invested in doctors and nurses when patients’ lives are on the line every week, so it’s understandable to want to look for new content to fuel the conversation.
Enter Call The Midwife. If you have a soft-spot for Grey’s Anatomy and Downton Abbey, this is the happy medium between those two in both tone and time. Grey’s is based in the present, while Downton exists between World Wars. Midwife takes place during the dawn of the modern age of surgery, tucked neatly away in a 50’s era East London neighborhood. Full of heart and heart-wrenching drama, this title centers around the nurse midwives and nuns of Nonnatus House in the late 50’s and early 60’s of London’s East End. While the drama is elevated at times, it’s a charming and joyous show as well, featuring comedic and classically trained actresses working side by side. Based on the actual memories of nurse midwife Jennifer Worth, Midwife stars Jessica Raine as nurse Jenny Lee, the POV protagonist for the first three series. In staying true to its memoir origins, it features narration by a mature Jenny, voiced by the sublime Vanessa Redgrave. The supporting cast of characters is what really makes this an ensemble piece of the highest caliber, though. From the whimsical Trixie Franklin to bumbling-yet-kind Chummy Browne to the stern Sister Evangelina, the nuns and nurses of Nonnatus House are together a fun, sincere, caring, stoic, and remarkable bunch.
The primary function of midwifery is childbirth, of course, but each of the ladies serving Poplar in the East End are well-rounded trained nurses. Making house calls to the neighborhood’s ill folk is just as important as delivering the next generation of Brits. The sister-in-charge of Nonnatus is Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter.) She has the most experience in midwifery, and she is a kind and compassionate sister. The previously mentioned Sister Evanglina (Pam Ferris) is the most no-nonsense sister of the bunch. She’s the archetypal “hardass with a heart of gold.” Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) resides in the house, but she is no longer practicing medicine. She has gone a touch eccentric in her old age, and when she’s not quoting classic literature, she’s hunting the cupboards for cake. Sister Bernadette (Laura Main) has something of a crisis of purpose when she’s surrounded by the secular nurses. Her faith remains strong, but her place in the world eludes her. Her journey is a particularly sweet one.
The first season introduces us to previously mentioned Jenny Lee, Trixie and Miranda Hart’s Chummy. Chummy’s full name is Camilla Fortescue-Cholomondley-Brown, so you can see why the nickname is preferred. Chummy is overly tall, so that makes her a bit of a clumsy caregiver, but her earnest willingness to give everything of herself is remarkable even in Nonnatus House. A favorite of mine is Nurse Trixie Franklin, played by the utterly magical Helen George. Nurse Franklin is a thoroughly modern gal but loves her career and her colleagues, not despite but because of their differences. The roster of midwives changes slightly throughout the seasons, with each new midwife and sister bringing new life, new heart, and new joy into the house.
Just like Downton Abbey, Call The Midwife airs stateside on your local PBS station. It is currently midway through its fourth season on the US airwaves. The first three seasons are available to stream on Netflix.
Have you already watched Call The Midwife? Share your favorite moments below or with me (@rvwalkerregrets) on Twitter!