Initially Call the Midwife was a memoir written by Jennifer Worth, later it was called Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s. The book was published in 2002 and a few years later when it was reissued it became a best seller. The BBC’s TV show based off of Worth’s book in 2012 only increased the popularity of her memoir. The series premiered for the first time on January 15th, 2012. The second season aired on January 20th, 2013, the third season aired January 19th, 2014, and the last season thus far aired January 18th 2015. Heidi Thomas created the series and it now includes more new historical information which does go beyond the original book. Neal Street Productions is responsible for producing the series, and it is owned by Sam Mendes, Caro Newling, and Pippa Harris.
The series quickly became popular from the very beginning, and in fact it became BBC One’s most successful dramas in over a decade. So far each season has had between 10-11 million UK viewers. The television series Call the Midwife—and the those who participate in the show–have been nominated for a number of awards and won quite a few of them. TV Choice Awards, UK, gave the series an award for Best New Drama, TV and Radio Industries Club Award gave it Drama Programme of the Year, Christopher Award gave Call the Midwife a TV and Cable Prize, and the women Miranda Hart, Philippa Lowthorpe, and Christine Walmesley-Cotham all won awards for their contributions.
Call the Midwife made its way internationally and on September 30th, 2012, it premiered in the United States on PBS. The series has also been broadcast in many other countries too, including Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greece, Spain, and Australia. BBC Worldwide also sold Video on Demand rights to Netflix.
The central character in the series is the Nurse Jenny Lee, played by Jessica Raine. At only 22 she comes to the Nonnatus House in the year 1957, entirely naive to what kind of life she is about to find there. Jenny is surprised to find out she is moving into a convent and not a private hospital as she initially believed. Jenny comes from a completely different world than the East End during the 50s and is met with culture shock, but she learns to adapt to the new environment. Miranda Hart plays Nurse Camilla “Chummy” Browne. Although she comes from a fairly important family Camilla suffers from poor self confidence. Despite this, she is a very kind. Jenny Agutter plays Sister Julienne, who is not only a very experienced midwife but also the sister who is in charge. She is very religious, practical, compassionate, and generally a mediator and diplomat among the others. Pam Ferris plays Sister Evangelina, who is the most familiar with the rough background where the midwives and sisters serve. She is very good at her job and has a good sense of humor. Judy Parfitt plays Sister Monica Joan, one of the first women to become a midwife in Britain. Helen George plays the flirty vivacious Nurse Beatrix “Trixie” Franklin and a friend to Jenny. Bryony Hannah plays Nurse Cynthia Miller, later Sister Mary Cynthia, who is gentle and sensitive. Laura Main plays Sister Bernadette, later Shelagh Turner, who is very well educated and connects well with her peers.
There are a number of other main characters and recurring characters who all have important roles in Call the Midwife. Cliff Parisi plays Frederick ‘Fred’ Buckle, Stephen McGan plays Dr. Patrick Turner, Ben Caplan plays Police Constable Peter Noakes, Victoria Yeates plays Sister Winifred, Emerald Fennel plays Nurse Patsy Mount, Charlotte Ritchie plays Nurse Barbara Gilbert, and Linda Bassett plays Nurse Phyllis Crane.
During the time that Call the Midwife is set there are a lot of babies being born and in the East End, and according to one review the best way to grab an audience’s attention is by depicting a baby in distress of some sort. Although this is sometimes seen as a taboo or cheap way to get viewers many people say that Call the Midwife is a very quality TV program. The series is respectful about the concept of labor and it does not shy away from showing the realities women faced in that time and place. Many struggled to pay for medical aid. Although some viewers say it might be a little slow it is worth watching and many people rave about the acting, which is not so surprising in light of the fact that a couple members of the cast have been given awards.
On the other hand, some consider the show to cling to predictable characters and stereotypes without getting into the deeper aspects of the midwives, which some viewers find a little bit frustrating. One review even says that Call the Midwife suffers from a lack of ambition in these particular areas. Even so, the characters are often viewed as endearing and provoking.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Call the Midwife an approval rating of 95%, and IMDb gives it an approval rating of 8.4/10 stars, so in general viewers have liked the show reasonably well. Those who like the series call it a cozy Sunday night drama, many calling it addictive and full of heart. Some even say it is of about the same quality as Downton Abbey, functioning as a sufficient replacement. Although not always historically accurate many say that the series is made more for entertainment and it does a good job of just that, causing emotional reactions from many people. There are a lot of people who read the book and discovered that the TV show does not always follow it very closely. For some people the historical inaccuracies (especially for those who lived in the area at the time the show takes place) are inexcusable and have ruined the show, at least for them. There are not too many vocal critics, but one of them says that the show is confusing and contradictory and that the only things ever to be happening are people giving birth, helping others to go through labor, or else dying. In the end however the critics are few and far between.