“We flicker on a screen, we fold and unfold upon the mind’s eye,” says Vanessa’s wise voiceover as Call the Midwife series seven comes to a bittersweet end. “Brittle as wings, eternal as a heartbeat. And even when the heart falls silent we do not cease to be. Because in the end we all become memories.”
As birthday girl Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) watches with delight and surprise (and sometimes with sorrow), images from her long life are projected up on the cinema screen.
Crowded in to the auditorium are Sister Winifred, Val, Phyllis, Sister Julienne, Violet, Tom, Fred, Dr Turner, Shelagh, Lucille and the elderly nun’s many friends and neighbours, all in one place to celebrate together. But – through the power of projection! – they are also joined by Chummy, Barbara and even Trixie.
The slideshow features photographs of both Chummy (Miranda Hart), everyone’s favourite former midwife, and Barbara (Charlotte Ritchie), whose recent death is deeply felt at Nonnatus House. Our hearts!
Also appearing in Poplar’s local cinema is Nurse Trixie (Helen George), who turns up in home movie footage clutching a sign that says “see you soon”. She may not be physically in the cinema to watch Sister Monica Joan blow out the candles on her cake, but her presence is felt as the Call the Midwife family pulls together to remember the past and look to the future.
These poignant final moments have us smiling through the tears, especially as the camera lingers on the red rose and toy carousel on Barbara’s freshly dug grave. It is a fitting end to an episode (and a series) full of grief but also friendship.
The toy carousel is a heartrending reminder of the Barbara who rode the merry-go-round on her wedding day just a year ago, grinning at husband Tom (Jack Ashton) and looking forward to married life: the Barbara we see on screen at the cinema is only a memory.
But at the same time, this little tin carousel is a symbol of love and friendship.
Reggie, who himself suffered the great loss of his mother, buys the toy for Tom to place on his wife’s grave, reaching out to the widower in his grief. This is a powerful gesture.
So when we see Chummy holding her wedding bouquet and looping arms with husband Peter Noakes (Ben Caplan) on the church steps, and when we see Barbara riding the carousel in her wedding dress, and when we see Trixie blowing kisses, it provides us with the perfect moment to pause and take stock after seven years of Call the Midwife.
In Poplar, it’s time to celebrate – but also to remember.