Call the Midwife has swapped cosiness for serious social issues – and is all the better for it

Trixie's admission proves just how much Call the Midwife grew up in series four, says Ellie Walker-Arnott

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Call the Midwife has become synonymous with period dresses, vintage china and retro records, with cute red cardis and bikes bumping over cobbles – and that is still an important part of its enduring charm. But series four has seen this much-loved period drama come of age.

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The show has never shied away from featuring dark and upsetting storylines, yet its fourth series has been darker than ever before, and, I think, all the better for it. There are still cake crumbs and crochet blankets, but the show could now never be accused of being flighty or frivolous. Instead it’s embraced the grim and gritty in new and unapologetic ways.

From child neglect and the persecution of homosexual men to stillbirth and syphilis, the drama has been tackling difficult issues on a weekly basis, enlightening its viewers, changing opinions and still managing to be gripping and entertaining. It’s not preachy. It’s not didactic. It’s just clever.

Call the Midwife is opening its young audience’s eyes (many fan letters are from teenage girls) to the plight of women mere decades ago, and bringing home how precious our liberal world is in comparison. 

But this series finale proved just how far the drama has come, with a surprising admission from long-standing character Trixie. The run has hinted at the recently heartbroken midwife’s inner turmoil, while star Helen George told us back in January that this was the series that would reveal “what’s behind the smile.”

Tonight’s episode finale did just that when Trixie called the Samaritans, admitting she had a problem with drink, before attending an Alcoholics Anonymous group at the end of the episode. As always, writer Heidi Thomas handled Trixie’s struggle with alcoholism in an impressive and careful way. She pulled the rug from underneath us, and startled us in the way the same confession from a close friend might. 

Trixie has always been the bubbly, fun one. Her love of a sneaky Babysham or creative cocktail in her convent bedroom – along with her impressive array of lipstick shades, stylish silk pyjamas and stack of Vogue magazines –was part of why we loved her. We thought we knew her, but it turns out we didn’t, not really.

My one complaint is that it’s a shame that Patsy’s fledgling relationship was cut short. The red-head couldn’t even attempt a happy ending with Delia, even though the duo almost moved into a flat together in tonight’s episode.

In TV land, lesbian couples are rarely allowed to complete their stories. It’s been noted how often one half of a gay couple find themselves killed off, and while Patsy’s Delia didn’t die, her accident and subsequent memory loss provided the same conclusion. For now, at least, Patsy’s subversive storyline is over. 

It was a heart-wrenching and upsetting twist, but it would have been much more interesting to see how the couple attempted to live alongside each other and be true to their feelings in the intolerance of the 1960s.

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Call the Midwife will return to BBC1 for a fifth series next year