‘Call the Midwife’ review: Season 5’s finale is as hopeful as it is saddening

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This season, Call the Midwife has had perhaps its most serialised story yet with the births of multiple babies with deformities.

In this episode, Thalidomide is finally revealed to the characters as the cause of these issues, and it leaves everyone feeling a certain amount of responsibility and frustration at not being able to prevent something they were so puzzled about.

The show also revisits two of the mothers we’ve known to have given these children. Ruby Cottingham (Becci Gemmell), whose baby died at a hospital in this season’s fourth episode, appears here once again. Patsy doesn’t immediately recognise her, but still sees her frequently pouring gin into her coffee at the coffee shop that she and Delia go to. Ruby is much sadder and feels lost in the aftermath of her baby’s death, and has become reliant on the dangerous pills that Sister Julienne has to take from her late in the episode.

Call the Midwife 5 Nurse Trixie Franklin (HELEN GEORGE)

We also see Rhoda Mullucks (Liz White) again, and see how she’s coping with her baby Susan’s condition. She’s finding strength through the support of her family, but is clearly still feeling a lot of pain and judgement from others.

White’s performance as Rhoda is one of the most instantly memorable for a character who only appeared in one episode previously and she delivers again here, especially as Dr Turner and Shelagh reveal to her exactly why her Susan was born malformed.

She knows she shouldn’t blame herself, but she also can’t help it, and White plays that dichotomy with really moving nuances. The same can be said for Dr Turner, who worries about how many people he’s prescribed the drugs to, although the episode manages to absolve him of a lot of responsibility by making it so that he didn’t actually prescribe it to any of the mothers we know or have seen affected.

Call the Midwife 5 Nurse Barbara Gilbert (CHARLOTTE RITCHIE)

While the Thalidomide story gets the bulk of the focus throughout the hour, it’s the deteriorating health of Sister Evangelina that takes the spotlight. With her returning after recovering from a stroke, it may have been clear to some that her story might be drawing to a close.

Early in this episode, Barbara manages to convince her back to midwifery and she finds that she’s still useful even with the use of just one arm. Seeing her smile as she hears a baby born reminds us just how much she’s done over the course of the previous five seasons, and it’s an upsetting, understated moment when we realise that Fred isn’t going to be able to wake her up the next morning because she’s died peacefully during the night.

We see shock and sadness ripple through the immediate set of characters, but it’s soon able to be replaced by a more hopeful feeling as every single person involved with Sister Evangelina’s funeral is prepared to give them their services free of charge, as a thanks for how much Evangelina gave to the community in her life.

For what is a major character death, this is definitely very sensitively handled and manages to both be really affecting and underplayed. These moments all emphasise just how important Evangelina has been to not only the characters we know, but everyone in the wider world of Poplar that she’s helped over the years.

Call the Midwife 5

Elsewhere, a young man is awaiting the arrival of his pregnant fiancee, Noelle (Sheena May), from Australia. This subplot is a simple one where things simply have to click into place; even if it’s done with a certain degree of emotional resonance, it’s always clear from early on in this episode that Sister Evangelina’s dress will end up being donated to the new mother and that Noelle is highly likely to give birth at her own wedding. While expected, these story beats all still do work very effectively.

The overall effect is a season finale that is as hopeful as it is saddening. We see the characters reflect on what they could and couldn’t have done for those mothers and children who have suffered, and we also see them look to a way forward even as they acknowledge that it’s going to be more difficult without the guiding hand of Sister Evangelina.

At numerous points, we see characters mention that they’ve learnt so much from Evangelina’s example, and we can be certain that those lessons will be held close to heart for all of them as they continue to help the women of this community.


Aired at 8pm on Sunday 6 March 2016 on BBC One.

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