Emerald Fennell on the Call the Midwife Christmas special: “It’s going to traumatise everyone”

"We all cried the whole way through both of the read-throughs actually. It’s quite rare," reveals the actress who plays no-nonsense nurse Patsy

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Emerald Fennell, red-haired and sporting a silky dressing gown, is utterly at home on the set of Call the Midwife. The 29-year-old star, who became a series regular last year, calls her role as no-nonsense midwife Patsy “the dream job.”

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“The parts for women are amazing,” Fennell says. “You don’t really see women at work that much in drama, women who are incredibly confident, incredibly clever. It’s just so great that these girls are just getting on with their lives and just being brilliant at work.”

“Everyone loves it so much and it’s so moving,” she adds, referencing the fact that many Call the Midwife fans find themselves a blubbering mess at the end of each episode. A fact that isn’t going to change when the Nonnatus gals return to our telly screens on Christmas Day. 

“For Christmas and [episode] one, it’s mostly just incredibly emotional,” says Fennell. “We all cried the whole way through both of the read-throughs actually. It’s quite rare. Because you’ve read it so many times.”

“I think they’re really going to traumatise everyone. But they’re really beautiful.”

The festive special is, as usual, set at Christmas as the nuns and midwives prepare their home-spun celebrations. But there are two hard-hitting storylines, too. 

Patsy’s focusses on a home for unmarried mothers and their newborns: “They’re basically spirited away to this quite frightening place; it’s not quite the Magdalene sisters but it’s not far off. So we’re dealing with what happens when these girls want to keep their children.”

But, while the episode will undoubtedly tug at viewer’s heartstrings, it wouldn’t be Call the Midwife if it didn’t end on a lighter note. 

“Heidi [Thomas, the show’s creator] is so brilliant. She tends to try and make the darkness uplifting and tends to give some hope.”

Patsy originally appeared as a guest star, playing a nurse at The London, before Thomas decided to bring the character back and give her a full-time role at Nonnatus: “[It’s] incredibly thrilling. She felt that Patsy was a character she wanted to write more really. I don’t know whether it was anything to do with me necessarily, more her brilliant writing.”

She loves the challenges that come with starring in a super successful BBC1 period drama – “A lot of it’s very emotional. It’s really important that you get it right as well because a lot of these stories are going to be really personal to women who are watching” – but laments the differences between herself and her bold, bossy character…

“In real life I can barely get up and make myself a cup of tea without pouring hot water down my front. To play someone who is really efficient is just an absolute dream. I hoped it would make me more efficient, but it hasn’t.”

“[I’m a] bit scatty which is incredibly annoying. I wish I wasn’t,” she continues. “You know there are those people who’ve got everything in their diary and they know exactly what they’re doing and when their deadlines for things are… No, not a clue.”

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Call the Midwife is on Christmas Day at 7:50pm on BBC1