I’ve been wanting to write here about Call the Midwife for a while. After watching the finale of the current season today seems like the obvious time. But please (!) if you watch this show and haven’t seen the finale yet, do not click to read! Spoilers abound below the cut and you really, really don’t want to have this episode spoiled.
Instead take this warning and make sure you have a full box of tissues because you are absolutely going to need it. Then come back, read the rest of this post, and tell me how right I was.
I’ve been wanting to write here about Call the Midwife for a while. This is one of the best programs on TV.
It’s a woman’s show, based on a memoir written by a woman and written and directed primarily by women and featuring women in most of the major roles. Women: old and young, plain and beautiful, spinsters and nuns, mothers and wives, girls next door and glamour girls. There are lots of women and this show and they are the main characters. This shouldn’t be unusual, but it so is.
It’s a medical show and a history show. As the title suggests, it is a show about midwives, the nurses who deliver babies and care for mothers, expectant and otherwise and their children. (These midwives are also district nurses, caring for the medical needs of their neighborhood in general.) Some of these midwives are also Anglican nuns, and they live together in a combination convent and nurses’ residence. If this sounds a bit high concept, it is based on a true story and actually makes a fair amount of sense in context.
The neighborhood is Poplar, down by the docks in the East End of London, with a population that is mixed– poor and working class, native British and immigrant– and the time is “after the War”. When the series began it was set in the early 50s, in the first days of the National Health, and now, at the end of the truly excellent sixth season, it is 1961. The history of the times is woven deeply into the story lines which are of course based in issues involving reproduction, reproductive health, and the path medicine and culture have both taken in dealing with these fundamental issues.
Never has a (mostly) gentle and not terribly violent TV program been aired with so many strong disclaimers. There may not be a lot of “sexy times” in it, but I don’t think many shows have dealt so directly (and compassionately, and humorously) with the realities of sex in the history of the medium.
But I’m here because of the characters. And I’m here in tribute. I’ve never written an obituary of a fictional character before, but if anyone deserves it it’s Sister Evangelina. She’s my favorite character in the series and one of my favorite female characters in literature ever, right up there with Granny Weatherwax of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.
Stout in mind, body and spirit, blunt spoken, gruff, and as tough as they come, Sister Evangelina had profound courage and the biggest of all possible hearts. If she was critical of others, she was no less strict with herself, and she never asked anyone to do anything she wasn’t willing to do herself. Twice. And if a situation required kindness instead of judgement, well, she was right there too.
She was an amazing person, and in this episode she dropped in harness, to be found dead in her chair by the fire in the morning after a late night call out by her old friend and friendly sparring partner, Fred the caretaker. You will cry. And when you see the bit with the shoes, you will cry harder.
Sister Evangelina, you will be missed. And you’re going to live on in the memory of your friends, colleagues and patients. It’s already started to happen.
(Sister Evangelina and Fred. Sister Evangelina rode a motorcycle during the War. Of course she did.)