Easily the most compelling story within Call the Midwife’s sixth episode of the season is that of Paulette (Nell Hudson).
A 17-year-old diabetic who discovers she is pregnant and is presented with the possibility of a dangerous pregnancy or a legal abortion (rare at the time but available because having the baby could harm its health and her health), she’s presented with the possibilities, but not the choice. Too young to be deemed responsible, it’s her mother ultimately taking the decisions.
This makes for a strong plotline because it features both a really complicated dilemma about who makes the decisions regarding her body (really, it should be her, but it’s not) and it offers a more nuanced portrayal of a young romance and the dynamic of a family that has constantly struggled with such a ever-present illness as diabetes.
Sam Gittins plays Vaughn, Paulette’s boyfriend; what makes him interesting is how he’s already been in jail and comes from a family with a reputation for breaking the law. TV drama teaches us not to trust characters like him, but it soon become clear how invested he is in rehabilitation and honesty. That he eventually has to break the law to save his girlfriend’s life is tragic, but there’s a small sense of optimism in knowing he has Phyllis believing in him.
Like last week’s episode, Call the Midwife still seems to be juggling more storylines than it can manage. There are at least four main threads, but it’s Paulette’s story that is the most consistently coherently written.
The other moving story is that of Sister Mary Cynthia and her interactions with members of an Irish caravan community. The main character being that of Attracta (Maria Doyle Kennedy), a woman expecting her 11th child whose grandmother is also very poorly.
There are certain obvious beats to the story here, and an obvious familiarity to Call the Midwife exploring issues of poverty. There are elements that set this apart though. Chief among them is the role of religion and faith.
This show has always had a complex view of religion, and this story is all about Sister Mary Cynthia learning what being a nun provides her that just being a midwife did not. There’s a shared connection and an understanding from religion that allows her to touch Attracta’s life in an unexpected way.
It’s easy to imagine her turning away help from Trixie, for instance, but recognising that there’s a worth in welcoming somebody close to a belief they both share into her home. It also helps that the performances are highly convincing, especially that from 83-year-old Rita Davies, playing Attracta’s dying grandmother Pegeen. In the end, even if one or two beats seem contrived, the actors sell it.
Sister Evangelina returns here too, with a refreshingly optimistic outlook that only really shows through in a brief conversation with Sister Winifred about the joys of their work. Also, the nature of Patsy’s relationship with Delia is made much clearer while still remaining subtle and in the background.
The show can’t be too obvious about them being in a same-sex relationship (especially given what we’ve seen about it being a crime), but it has found ways to hint at it through camerawork that often finds them sharing the frame. When they talk about how much they’d like to dance together but acknowledge that they can’t, there’s really not much else to be said.
There’s much else going on here too, like Sister Monica Joan feeling unwell, Fred’s spark with a new love interest and Timothy starting a new school. But what works best is in that main storyline. The episode is solid, perhaps lacking in focus, but still as moving and engaging as Call the Midwife usually is.
Aired at 8pm on Sunday 22 February 2015 on BBC One.
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