Category: Period Drama

Call the Midwife

It’s Sunday, so in addition to gearing up for the week ahead, I’m also looking forward to the next instalment of Call the Midwife on BBC1 this evening. Set in London’s East End in the 1950s, it follows the lives of young midwife Jenny Lee and her colleagues in nursing convent Nonnatus House.

There are some high-profile names in Call the Midwife, with Pam Ferris and Jenny Agutter playing two of the Sisters and Vanessa Redgrave narrating the series as Jenny Lee in later life. Miranda Hart appears as Nurse Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne, otherwise known as Chummy, and I have to say I actually prefer her in this role to her more slapstick character Miranda. She plays Chummy with the perfect blend of warmth, humour and vulnerability and her budding relationship with a local police officer is charming to watch.

Call the Midwife successfully balances amusing and heart-warming moments with incidents of sheer tragedy, without ever seeming far-fetched or melodramatic. This is possibly due to the fact that it’s based on the best-selling memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the real Jenny Lee, who died last year aged 75. The joy of becoming parents is tempered by the very real issues of poverty, sickness and death and the series touches upon issues that are still pertinent in today’s society, such as the importance of good nursing care and the horrors of forced prostitution.

In spite of these hard-hitting doses of reality, it’s an enjoyable hour of television viewing and has, for me, sparked a genuine interest in reading Jennifer Worth’s original memoirs of the same title. After tonight there’s only one episode left, but a second series has been commissioned so I’ll look forward to plenty more smiles and tears in 2013.

What with one thing and another – finishing my MA, job hunting and numerous family events – it’s been rather a long time since I blogged.  September was a pretty good month for me telly-wise though, with the BBC kindly broadcasting the Strictly Come Dancing launch show on my 23rd Birthday and Series Two of Downton Abbey starting a week later.  Who Do You Think You Are? returned as my staple 9pm Wednesday night fare in August and I made a couple of new discoveries that completed a very satisfactory weekly TV menu, keeping me entertained as the evenings drew in this month. So, without further metaphors (I really should stop with the food analogies!) here’s a breakdown of my Top Five summer-into-autumn shows…

My Own Route 66 Adventure: Pops

5.     Billy Connolly’s Route 66 

I was drawn to this four-part ITV series for two reasons.  Firstly; it was made by Maverick, where I was lucky enough to have a placement earlier this year.  Secondly; I travelled halfway across America in May, including a short stint on Route 66, so I was fascinated to see what else this iconic road has to offer.  Although Connolly didn’t visit Pops, the only landmark on Route 66 that I went to, the series did provide an insight into both the physical and cultural breadth of the USA.  It’s hard to imagine somebody doing a better job presenting this sort of travelogue than Connolly, hitting the highways on his trike and telling stories about people and places with honesty and humour.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and am now following the programme that’s taken over its Thursday evening slot: Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey.

4.     Who Do You Think  You Are?  

This is one that divides my housemates, some of whom claim  that who your great-great-grandparents were really has no bearing on you.  Whilst there is a degree of logic in this, I  have always seen WDYTYA as a fascinating avenue into history first, a genealogy programme second.  You never know what  era of history might be encountered as the celebrities trace their ancestors.  Larry Lamb’s episode was one of my favourites in this latest series: his mother’s family were travelling showmen, famous for their menagerie of exotic animals, and he actually tracked  down a previously unknown relative in America.   J.K. Rowling’s journey took her to France and Germany, giving an insight into the impact of the Franco-Prussian war on ordinary families.  No two episodes of WDYTYA are ever the same, historically or in the reactions of the celebrity participants.  It may be a little bit of sentimentality that draws me in as well as the history, but regardless of my friends’ opinions I’ll  certainly watch the next series when it reaches our screens. 

The Formidable Grandmother: Maggie Smith

3.     Downton Abbey

It’s all happening at Downton Abbey and the twists and turns this series have seldom brought happy news for the Crawley family.  It’s hardly surprising, given that the Great  War has been dominating the bulk of the storylines, but it would be nice to have some small glimmer of hope for Lady Mary and Matthew or for Mr Bates and Anna in previews of the next week’s episode.  Intriguing as all the relationships are at Downton, whether they’re platonic,  amorous, or crossing class boundaries, the heightened drama seems to be prohibiting even one match between two characters being satisfactorily cemented.  The costumes and setting are exquisite and Maggie Smith is still delivering superb lines as the Dowager Countess, but I’m hoping for more resolutions and less mini cliff-hangers over the coming weeks.

2.     Fresh Meat

Fresh Meat is a  new Channel 4 comedy that follows the escapades of six university students  forced to share a house after missing out on their places in Halls.  The characters and situations are often exaggerated for effect, but nevertheless strike a surprisingly realistic chord about the  ups and downs of moving to a new city and living with strangers.  Its appeal lies in the subtle but astute observations about how Freshers deal with the strains of University life,  creating new identities (who can forget the Pussy Man?) and desperately trying to please and impress new acquaintances, even if it does lead to one night stands with housemates.  The main characters represent a bunch of stereotypes who aren’t actually as stereotypical as they initially seem; from posh lad JP to alternative, don’t- care Vod.   We’ve all got mates who remind us of at least one person in Fresh Meat, or can personally identify with some of the scenarios – even if we wouldn’t admit it!  Each episode leaves me chuckling and it’s no surprise that a second  series has already been commissioned.

Russell and Flavia's Foxtrot, Week 3

 1.      Strictly Come Dancing

Admittedly something of a guilty pleasure, but I’m an avid Strictly fan, including tuning in for It Takes Two most week nights.  Sometimes I think it would be worth becoming famous just for the slight chance that I could be asked to take part in Strictly.  Not for the hair and make-up, but just for the opportunity to learn to dance with a professional like James (hint hint!) or Vincent, who’s certainly the best match for me height-wise…Dreaming aside though, I love watching Strictly because it’s solid entertainment: a visual spectacle, that ‘journey’ element, and plenty of amusing moments.  Yes, it’s sad when somebody leaves undeservedly, like Rory Bremner last weekend, and occasionally the judges go a little OTT, but nobody’s livelihoods are at stake in this competition; it’s really a very positive process.  Indeed, the ballroom bug seems to infect all who take part.  Russell Grant may not be the best dancer to grace the floor, but is truly a joy to behold as he learns each new routine.  I’m slightly apprehensive about seeing what Nancy Dell’Olio and Anton present this Saturday in the Halloween Special, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything.  Besides, it wouldn’t be so fun to watch if I couldn’t voice my own criticisms about dresses and routines.  My favourite to win? It’s early days yet, so perhaps I’ll save that for my next blog…

I just came across this Radio Times blog post about Spooks and Downton Abbey, which both start again a week on Sunday.  Near the bottom it reads: “most people still like their TV on a plate…”, in reference to the fact that Downton will almost certainly get higher ratings due to its post X Factor slot.  My first thought was, ‘if only I could somehow link that one phrase to this blog!’  My second was that actually, as I wrote in my first How I Watch TV post, iPlayer and other on demand services do give us our TV on a plate, as and when we want it.  Yes, sometimes we’ll end up watching something because we couldn’t summon the energy to change channel, but (and I apologise if this is extending the metaphor painfully) this is the equivalent of having a meal served that you may not like, but end up eating anyway.  Sure, you may end up sampling a tasty dish that you’ll subsequently order every week, but with iPlayer et al. you can pick your favourites and consume them at your convenience.

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In short, I don’t believe that being part of an ‘inherited audience’ is the only way in which viewers get telly on a plate.  I will certainly be tuning in to Downton Abbey on the 18th, but this is due to Maggie Smith rather than Gary Barlow.