TV Review: Call The Midwife (Christmas Special)

You could not find more of a contrast between two Christmas specials of the same show; last year’s Call The Midwife offering saw our favourites from Nonnatus House in the sunny setting of South Africa as they worked in a mission hospital; this year it was decidedly chillier as the midwives were back home, tackling the Big Freeze of 1963.

Right off the bat, it feels like a more wintery affair than last year, with the mountains of snowdrifts right from the off. I mean the sunny vistas of South Africa were lovely, but this feels like a much more British affair: Sun in December? Can’t relate. Freezing your butt off in December: yup, been there, done that!

As usual, Call The Midwife’s Christmas special delivered a rollercoaster of emotions. Whilst there were lighter storylines, like Phyllis facing off against a local policeman, a Christmas pantomime — including many of the cast dressed in varying ridiculous costumes — and new mum Shelagh Turner (Laura Main) trying to squeeze into her girdle to assist her struggling husband at work, the majority of this festive episode focused on tugging at the hearstrings.

Anita Dobson guest stars in one of the episode’s main storylines, as elderly Mabel Tillerson, and gives a glorious performance. I truly didn’t even recognize that it was her during the episode. Dobson’s storyline starts out as something relatively simple — as the next of kin of a man who died in the big freeze — but it turns into something much darker than that. Without giving too much away for those who have yet to watch, this is a story that will tug at the heartstrings.

Nurse Valerie Dyer (played by Jennifer Kirby) gets the other major storyline of this year’s Christmas special, which was lovely to see given her limited appearance in Series 6. Valerie is involved with a young pregnant woman and her boyfriend who are living in a caravan when the Big Freeze hits. This particular storyline was incredibly difficult to watch, as Valerie delivers the seemingly dead baby inside the frosted caravan. While the acting chops of everyone involved are applaudable (particularly Kirby and the actress playing the mother, Francene Turner), one does wonder if perhaps it was a little too much for Christmas Day — even given the way the storyline is wrapped up.

Several familiar faces are missing from this year’s Christmas special, as Patsy (Emerald Fennell), Delia (Kate Lamb) and Sister Mary Cynthia (Bryony Hannah) have all departed the series following the broadcast of Series 6 earlier this year. It had previously been reported that the trio were leaving, but it would have been nice to see them one last time and have them given a proper goodbye.

Goodbyes are still in the air during the special though, not just for the cast members who have left prior, but also for Tom (Jack Ashton) and Barbara (Charlotte Ritchie), as the newlyweds head off to Birmingham to help out in a local parish. The two have some sweet moments together during the episode before the big goodbye. Still, it seems we may be returning to a very slimmed down cast when the show comes back next year, with Tom and Barbara off in Birmingham, Patsy, Delia and Mary Cynthia gone and Trixie likely to be out for a few episodes given Helen George’s real life pregnancy (which is hilariously hidden during this episode), it seems like Nonnatus House may be rather short staffed during 1963!

Although it delivers much in the way of heartwrenching drama, the special also ends with the classic Christmas message of hope. This is something Call The Midwife always does very well — no matter how dark and depressing the storylines may seem, there is always hope there, which is lovely, especially at Christmas!

Whilst last year’s special is difficult to top, given that it featured such standout moments for our favourite midwives (like Trixie performing her first ever Caesarean section and Tom and Barbara’s beautiful engagement), seeing the midwives back at home this year, surrounded by snow and delivering both babies and standout, emotional performances was the perfect Christmas treat.

Call the Midwife will return for a seventh series in 2018.

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