Now us Call the Midwife fans aren’t strangers to a little heartbreak. The 50s-set drama has never been one to skirt around the tougher issues when it comes to childbirth and motherhood, be it infant death, disease, neglect, abuse and abortion.
But at the half way point, just when you thought the third series of Call the Midwife was into it’s gentle stride, we were thrown a bit of a curve ball. Never before has the despair, distress and drama been so focussed on one of our own.
And Jenny Lee no less. The naive midwife who first introduced us to the poverty stricken East End and the woman whose soothing thoughts open and close each episode. Seriously, if tonight’s instalment it didn’t have you reaching for the tissues your heart is made of pyrex.
The episode opened typically, to Jenny Lee cycling around Poplar. Soon enough we met this week’s mother-to-be: timid Leah, a first-time mother worried about her own mum, a Holocaust victim who escaped to London with her child only to hide inside her flat for 12 years.
Meanwhile poor, sweet Shelagh tried to come to terms with news of her infertility, donating her collected baby clothes to charity and throwing herself into hobbies as a distraction, while Sister Winifred was forced to find her feet as a midwife when circumstances left her solely in charge of a birth.
But the real storyline was Jenny and Alec’s. Alec, who last week professed his love for the midwife, invited Jenny away for the weekend to Brighton. A prospect she was delighted about, until she started to question her boyfriend’s motives. Her wobble in confidence soon caused an argument between the lovers, with Jenny rushing off and heading back to Nonnatus to unpack her suitcase.
But unbenownst to her, as she fretted about their trip, Alec suffered a fall from a great height at work. And despite Doctor Turner and PC Noakes doing everything they could, he lost part of his leg. Luckily the lovers reconciled in hospital, with Jenny recognising her strong feelings as the pair made plans to travel to Brighton, then Paris…
But more heartbreak was still to come. When Jenny returned to Poplar she was informed that she should rush back to the hospital as Alec had taken a turn for the worse, arriving only to be told that the boyfriend had already passed away.
It was a plot twist that came as a shock. Horrible things happen in Call the Midwife all the time, but it feels strange having something so tragic happen to one of our own midwives. There have been hints that the women have sad pasts but a loss like this, out of the context of childbirth, is hard to swallow.
The tough storyline did present a chance for Jessica Raine to prove her worth as Jenny, the prim and proper midwife whose actions sometimes border on predictable. As Jenny struggled after having a disagreement with Alec and then dealt with his accident, his death and the days that followed we saw angry, regretful and vulnerable Jenny, convincingly and heartbreakingly acted in a way that is infinitely more gripping than most of the scenes Raine is given.
After this episode Call the Midwife shouldn’t be accused of being sugary sweet. Its period dresses, crochet throws and plates of bourbons hide darker themes, that you’d be wise not to underestimate…
Call the Midwife continues on Sunday at 8:00pm on BBC1