Call the Midwife has lost vital characters before. Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) first introduced us to Poplar and Nonnatus House – the drama was originally told through her naive eyes – and the series survived, arguably thrived, when she left at the end of season three. But after the loss of Sister Evangelina, Midwife will never be the same again.
Tonight’s finale on ABC saw Sister Evangelina, played by Pam Ferris, pass away in her sleep from a suspected stroke. And, while fans were undoubtedly distraught when Jenny departed the drama, I suspect we’ll feel the loss of Sister Evangelina much more keenly.
While Jenny was a canvas for Poplar’s stories, steely Sister Evangelina was an integral part of them. Since Raine left, the drama has continued to turn in on itself, letting the Nonnatons take centre stage. Creator Heidi Thomas has moved on from Jennifer Worth’s brilliant source material, and has given the nuns and nurses difficult, dark and revealing storylines of their own.
One of the only characters born and raised in poverty similar to Poplar’s, Evangelina was confident, capable and no-nonsense. She could be blunt but there was a kind, eternally likeable side to her too.
She wasn’t simpering, feminine, retiring or amenable – she was nothing a woman of her era was supposed to be. She was strong and unapologetic about it. She anchored life at Nonnatus and inspired its younger recruits. And, whether cycling around in sunglasses or sparring with Sister Monica Joan over the last slice of Victoria sponge, she was the source of much light (something which we need more and more in Call the Midwife these days.)
We are used to Midwife making us sob, but Evangelina’s death is one of the most devastating stories to date. After five seasons, to say her unique presence will be missed would be an understatement.
At least, like the clever, sensitive drama we know it to be, Call the Midwife told the story of Sister Evangelina’s death in its own way.
Our beloved nun passed away 20 minutes into this hour-long finale, and, as her close friends and colleagues processed, grieved, made funeral arrangements and slowly let life continue around them, fans were given a chance to properly say goodbye to the show’s integral character.
It was a rare, realistic and thoughtful portrayal of grief played out on screen. Her death wasn’t used as a cliff-hanger or a shocking twist. It was gentle, quiet, and gut-wrenchingly heartfelt. Proving once again that this show is about so much more than cradles and contractions.
Call the Midwife returns for a Christmas special later this year and a sixth series in 2017