Unlike last year’s special, Christmas Day dawned in Poplar without so much as a squeak. The absence of a WWII bomb, or any kind of huge, all-encompassing catastrophe, rendered the episode a lot less explosive than 2013’s festive instalment. But no less powerful.
Our favourite red cardigan-sporting midwives were back on our telly screens, nine months after Jenny Lee left Nonnatus for good. Thankfully Vanessa Redgrave was on hand to fill the hole left by the prim and proper midwife, appearing on screen for the first time as mature Jenny Lee/Jennifer Worth after voicing those tear-jerking words of wisdom since the very first episode.
It was a touching tribute to the woman who penned the books Call the Midwife is based on, and who sadly died during production of the first series, never getting to see her youth as the hugely successful BBC1 period drama it has become. Redgrave played Jennifer in 2005, looking back on her life, remembering old friendships and gazing at those familiar faces, framed in black and white.
Soon enough monochrome turned to colour and we met our midwives as they opened Christmas cards from their departed chum and prepared for the annual Christmas play – think spinning snowflakes, dancing donkeys and Fred as Father Christmas.
The home-spun festive spirit didn’t end there. We had jewel-coloured party hats, enormous Christmas trees (real and otherwise), flaming puds, liquor chocolates and carol singing, but this wouldn’t be Call the Midwife without a little sorrow or strife.
While PC Noakes struggled with his Sergeants exams and a poorly baby Freddie, Chummy and Patsy found themselves stepping in to run a poorly-maintained home for unmarried mothers, ushered into society’s shadows to birth their babies and then give them away. Girls from different backgrounds all in impossible circumstances, that were easy to judge and pigeonhole, at least at first. It cleverly highlighted the plight of these women, so maligned in the 1960s, who, as Call the Midwife’s creator Heidi Thomas has pointed out, take on extra importance at Christmas: “It just seemed the perfect thing. At the end of the day, Christmas is a story about an unmarried mother. The reference is obvious.”
Meanwhile Cynthia stumbled across a local couple, recently released from a closed Victorian mental hospital, who were struggling with life in the new welfare state. But this wasn’t the only tricky storyline for Nonnatus’s most timid midwife. This Christmastime Cynthia decided to join the order, leaving Nonnatus for the Mother House and the beginning of her journey to embrace God – much to Trixie’s initial shock, confusion and upset.
It’s a world which feels hugely foreign to me – a non-church going 20something – as well as, I’d imagine, much of Call the Midwife’s millions of fans. That a young woman giving up her life – boys, lipstick, jazz and babysham – and choosing to marry God can makes us all feel something is impressive. In our modern world of serial dating, throwaway fashion and financial ambition, there should be a disconnect. On paper, a tale of nuns, callings and love for the Lord shouldn’t work. But it does. I challenge you not to be moved.
From opening to closing credits, the message this Christmas was one of reflection and acceptance, of supporting our loved ones or being kind to one another, even when we don’t necessarily understand. A pertinent lesson in our often judgemental day and age.
“Christmas comes at the closing of the year, it is a time of reaching out, looking back,” said Vanessa Redgrave’s Jennifer Worth. “It is when we take stock, when we measure joy and pain. It is when we say, ‘This is who we are. What we have now become’ and when we acknowledge what we cherish most of all.”
Call the Midwife is heart-warming, tear-jerking, brave and often brilliant telly, using its prime time slot to question the order of things, and watch the world changing, as Thomas puts it, “one woman at a time.”
Oh and it also fills us with feelings of joy and love for all of mankind. Because what else is Christmas telly for, eh?
Call the Midwife is back on BBC1 in early 2015