Emerald Fennell: Call the Midwife series four is “darker” than before

The actress who plays nurse Patsy, talks sad storylines, red hair and why she's sure the set is haunted

Patsy, Nonnatus House’s bold, fun and unflappable midwife, is back on our TV screens this Sunday night. And she’s looking a little bit different. 

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“I’ve gone a bit redder,” Emerald Fennell tells us. “We thought it was quite nice for the 60s for all us to have a bit of a change. We’re definitely into the swinging 60s now!”

Not that that means the Nonnatus nuns will be embracing free love and the sexual revolution… 

“Racy? I don’t know. It’s mostly just incredibly emotional,” she says, adding that series four is “even darker” than the show has ever been before. 

“We all cried the whole way through the read-throughs actually. It’s quite rare. Because you’ve read it so many times.” 

“There’s not been a dry eye in the house. There was one episode where we cried all the way through the rehearsals as well until the director was like, ‘Actually come on now. I know it is really sad, and you’re actresses so you’re over-emotional, but just come on. Get your stuff together.'”

“That was embarrassing. We just couldn’t even think about it,” she continues. “We had a prop dolly-baby and even looking at that was making us cry. I mean really just hopeless.”   

The hit BBC1 period drama returns with an especially heart-wrenching episode this weekend, following an upsetting case of child neglect. But, tears aside, rather than finding it harrowing, Fennell says storylines like that are a “real pleasure.” 

“It’s really important that you get it right as well because a lot of these stories are going to be really personal to women who are watching. You really want to be a good as you humanly can.”

And there are, she tells us, always ways to lighten the mood a little on set. With a few jokes – “It’s a very funny cast… everybody else stops laughing when the camera rolls and I’m the only person there chuckling like an idiot” – or by indulging in a little ghost-hunting… 

“We do think the studio here is haunted,” Fennell tells us, of the 19th century manor house they film in, adding that there are stories about people seeing “men coming out of rooms when they’ve been walking in.”

“Helen and I were filming about midnight and we had a bit of time off and thought ‘We’re going to go up to the attic’. In the beginning we were really brave. We were like, ‘We’ll be fine’. We got about three steps up and just screamed. It was just pathetic – didn’t even get near the attic.”

“I’m always dying to see a ghost,” Fennell continues, before adding that her fascination with the macabre has to be kept under wraps when certain members of the cast are on set. 

“We’re not allowed to talk, we’re not allowed to even make a ghost-like face around Charlotte Ritchie. She’s really terrified by ghosts.” 

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Call the Midwife returns on Sunday at 8:00pm on BBC1