‘Call the Midwife’ review: Season 5 Episode 4 lacks the usual emotional resonance

Posted Filed under

This week’s Call the Midwife aims to be about how the allure of a university education could be derailed by an unexpected pregnancy, while dealing with the simmering tension of Barbara’s relationship with Tom (and her lack of communication with Trixie).

The new season’s fourth episode also shows us that there are more cases of babies affected by Thalidomide, even if nobody currently knows why. Evidently, there’s a lot that’s splitting this episode’s focus, and it’s only really the latter of those three plot strands that ends up being wholly successful.

All of the relationship drama between Trixie, Tom, and Barbara feels a tad overwrought, unfortunately, because it’s something that we know has to happen even if the twists and turns – right down to Trixie and Tom admitting they haven’t got over each other but resolving to do so, and Trixie ultimately giving Barbara her blessing to continue dating Tom – feel completely familiar and unsurprising.

There’s some nuance in the way it’s delivered, like a very tiny moment where Tom stops Trixie from sipping a drink she knows she shouldn’t have, and the well-drawn characters keep things more interesting than they’d otherwise be. But, frankly, it’s hard to suggest this story is as compelling as the show’s capable of being.

Call the Midwife 5 Nurse Trixie Franklin (HELEN GEORGE)

Some of the same critiques can be levelled at one of the week’s procedural storylines, as this episode devotes far too much time to the story of young scholar Ian (Ted Reilly), a man who is overjoyed to have secured a place at university but has had to put his plans on hold when his girlfriend Linda (Chloe Harris) reveals she’s pregnant.

Effectively, for Ian, it means that he must marry her and take a job at the factory just like his father. Too little complexity is developed within his character, though, and both weak scripting and an unconvincing performance from Reilly make this plotline a real mess. Sadly, there’s little of Call the Midwife’s usual emotional resonance here.

Where the episode does hold up, however, is in Sister Julienne’s secondment to a hospital maternity ward. Watching her get firsthand experience of the pressure this hospital is under is eye-opening, and it shows how childbirth is being turned into something of a production line, without any of the individual warmth and care that the midwives of Nonnatus House would typically provide.

Call the Midwife 5 4

The episode really serves up a serious emotional punch when the struggling mother-to-be in this episode encounters complications and then gives birth, via emergency caesarian section, to yet another baby with deformities that has been affected by the drug Thalidomide.

More heartbreaking than the mere facts of what happens to this woman are the circumstances around the birth, and how the staff at the hospital abandon the weak and malformed child to die alone, away from the other recent born infants. There’s a callousness to the way the hospital treats this child, under the reasoning that it’s kinder to let it die than to have it live in suffering.

Expectedly, this is a big episode for Sister Julienne, and her reaction to the situation is restrained and sad, although she would be perfectly justified in feeling angry after the handling of the baby she’s just witnessed at the hospital. The upsetting story is then followed by Dr Turner despairing in his lack of knowledge over what’s causing the number of affected children, so it’s certain that this matter will be returned to, as the true cause of these problems is not yet known to the characters.

Call the Midwife 5

But one impactful storyline out of three does not a great episode make, and there are too many weaknesses in the relationship drama for the main characters and the overly sentimental and exaggerated story of Ian and Linda.

There’s a way that story could’ve worked much more effectively, perhaps if it was told more singularly from Linda’s perspective, but it simply doesn’t impress or convincingly achieve the same level of meaning and power as the show has managed in recent weeks.


Aired at 8pm on Sunday 7 February 2016 on BBC One.

> Buy the complete Season 1-4 box set on Amazon.

What did you think of the episode? Let us know below…

> Follow Simon Cocks on Twitter.