I’m all for light-hearted viewing. Celebrity-studded entertainment, formulaic sitcoms and silly, soapy dramas. The kind of fluffy fun that whizzes through your grey matter leaving little lasting impression. Sometimes TV is supposed to be relaxing and entirely untaxing.
While Call the Midwife has never fallen into that category, once upon a time I – along with many other period drama fans, I suspect – thought it was all frilly caps, red cardigans and vintage wallpaper. But, now in its fifth season, it’s clear the BBC1 drama is about so much more.
Call the Midwife, set in the poverty-stricken East End district of Poplar, is informing and educating as well as entertaining. It’s deftly dealing with some seriously weighty subjects – abortion, welfare, prejudice, education, inequality and abuse – in enlightening and thought-provoking ways.
And it’s essential Sunday night viewing. Over 7.5 million people agree with me – and even more should. In fact, I’d like to see Call the Midwife screened in all secondary schools.
I left school knowing more about Ancient Rome and Nazi Germany than the Britain my grandmother grew up in. And, despite going on to study women’s history at university, a lot of what Call the Midwife deals with is still new territory for me.
Even when it’s covering familiar ground, Call the Midwife is skillfully showing me what I already know in new ways. The drama is touching in a way a textbook can’t always be.
You won’t see an episode of Call the Midwife without a birth, but it’s about so much more than babies. It’s a clever way of telling hugely important, human stories that we could all do with sitting up and listening to.
Episode three saw a brilliant, qualified teacher sacked, shunned and evicted from her home because she fell pregnant when she wasn’t married. Seeing abortion as her only way out she attempted the then illegal procedure herself, which resulted in her being unable to ever have a family as well as being arrested and charged by the police. Meanwhile last week’s episode dealt with the difficulties working class teenagers had securing further education and improving their future prospects in the early 60s.
If teenagers aren’t told these tales, it’s all too easy to take the pill, to enjoy education, opportunity and the social stability we have today without giving it a second thought. Meticulously researched and far from rose-tinted, Call the Midwife is an important reminder that these are relatively new freedoms and we shouldn’t be taking them for granted.
And that’s not all. The drama also prompts us to keep thinking and questioning. Because it’s not just about realising how lucky we are nowadays. It’s about being tuned in to social injustice and prejudices, to current changes to university funding and the NHS, to how and why our world is the way it is – a level of engagement that is sometimes skipped over in our internet age of information bombardment.
So if an hour of period drama can make us stop and really think – and Call the Midwife certainly does – I think that’s pretty impressive.
Call the Midwife continues on Sundays at 8:00pm on BBC1