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'Call the Midwife' Relocates to South Africa
December 25, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Unlike Downton Abbey, whose annual Christmas special didn’t cross the pond until February or March, the Call the Midwife Christmas special will again air on, yes, Christmas day.

That’s excellent news, since Call the Midwife long ago became a crackling good drama of interest far beyond the natal community.

This year’s special, which airs on PBS at 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday (check local listings), takes some of the cast out of London, packing them off to South Africa on a mission to save an impoverished medical clinic.

Like all previous Christmas specials, it’s expertly crafted as a lead-in to the next full season, the sixth, which is expected to air late this winter or early in the spring.

It sets up several intense dramas and naturally ends with several cliffhangers. No one who watches the Christmas special will not want to find out what’s next.

Trixie Franklin (Helen George), Barbara Gilbert (Charlotte Ritchie), Phyllis Crane (Linda Bassett) and Shelagh Turner (Laura Main) lead the civilian team, while the nuns include Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter).

Dr. Patrick Turner (Stephen McGann), Shelagh’s husband, comes along as the accompanying doctor, while Fred Buckle (Cliff Parisi) plays the all-purpose handyman, auto mechanic and more than occasional comic relief.

In truth, Call the Midwife doesn’t need a designated comic relief specialist, since the show is laced with humor and endearing moments even when it deals with life, death, poverty and other serious issues.

Needless to say, South Africa in 1962 offers plenty of those, most rooted in the apartheid system that mandated strict racial segregation and pretty much guaranteed short, hard lives of poverty for most of the black population.

Hope Clinic, the endangered facility, is effectively the only medical care for thousands of black residents. It has no electricity and no running water. It could run a pipeline to a nearby spring for water, but the owner of the land the pipeline would cross will not give permission.

Now the nun who managed Hope Clinic has died, leaving it leaderless. Its only doctor, an insanely dedicated woman, is herself in precarious health. She insists, however, that all she wants from her visitors is polio vaccine and help administering it.

The clinic’s obstacles, however, outstrip the willpower by which she keeps it going.  

When two pregnant black women join the nurses and nuns around an outdoor fire, exchanging stories about their lives, a stone-faced policeman marches in and orders the black women to leave, noting this fraternization violates apartheid law.

Through vignettes like that, the Christmas Midwife incisively illustrates how the legal mechanisms of white supremacy grind down the humanity of black folks, male and female.

The youngest children are still children, playing and laughing. Often they are no more than 10 when the reality of their lives and future begins sapping that joy.

An educated woman who served as a secretary for two years in Cape Town explains how a new law required that she have a pass to work there – a pass no one would give her. So she returned to her family in her rural township, effectively imprisoned there.

All of this is just sinking in for the visiting British crew as the episode progresses, and it will clearly be a dominant theme moving into Season 6 itself.

One of the interesting questions will be how bold the British visitors can be in resisting what they increasingly recognize as an appalling system. 

Because Call the Midwife isn’t a political show, it’s unlikely to bash viewers over the head with racial messages.

But it has waded voluntarily into this water, so expect some splashing.

Meanwhile, as Britain itself moves further away from the deprivations of World War II, the world seems to brighten. Trixie’s got a two-piece bathing suit and music has moved forward to the likes of Little Eva’s The Locomotion.

The best news of all, for fans, is that Call the Midwife has been renewed for three seasons beyond 6. Merry Christmas.

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Mark Isenberg
Few know about this show due to lack of promotion but it is quite entertaining in the Masterpiece mode without the major stars we are used to although a few of you need to find TNT and Good Behavior with Michelle Dockery's amazing transformation on Tuesdays.
Dec 25, 2016   |  Reply
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