Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Call the Midwife: An East End Christmas

The nuns and medical professionals of Nonnatus House are used to surprise pregnancies, so you could say Christmas has special significance for them.  Yet, they are still taken aback by the package left on their doorstep.  The hit PBS-BBC series Call the Midwife delivers a special holiday helping of faith and sentiment in the Christmas special edition, screening this Sunday, just in time for Boxing Day, on most PBS outlets nationwide (promo here).

There is indeed a foundling left for the nuns of the East End convent-clinic.  He was not immaculately conceived.  Rather, he was secretly delivered by the plain but hard working daughter of a parish lay leader.  The infant will be fine in the nuns’ care.  The young girl is another story.

Of course, there is plenty of other drama afoot for the multi-character ensemble.  Fan favorite Nurse Chummy Browne has her hands full planning the neighborhood Christmas pageant, featuring an angel who looks suspiciously green around the gills.  Meanwhile, rookie-nurse Jenny Lee, the protagonist-narrator, is stuck paying house-calls on Mrs. Jenkins, an anti-social derelict with a bad case of the “work-house howl.”  In fact, this is the strongest subplot, giving the special an appropriately Dickensian vibe.  As usual, there will also be plenty of bike riding.

Midwife is sort of like Hallmark television for PBS viewers.  It depicts Christian virtues like faith and charity put into everyday practice in depressed 1950’s London, while promoting the welfare state expansion then underway.  The heavy-handed in-retrospect narration, courtesy of Vanessa Redgrave, is always a mistake, for multiple reasons.  However, the cast is convincingly earnest and committed.  Jessica Raine shows star quality as Lee and it is cool to see Brit TV and movie veteran Jenny Agutter light up the screen as the pious but pragmatic Sister Julienne.

Although it is no Chiller, the seventy-some minute Call the Midwife Christmas special represents safe and relatively pleasant family holiday viewing.  For dedicated series viewers, it is more of the same, except more so, given the Christmas setting.  Recommended accordingly, it airs this Sunday (12/30) on most PBS stations.