Greg Dixon 's Opinion

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

TV review: Call the Midwife is hard to stomach (+video)

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Poverty is heroic in 'Call the Midwife'. Photo / Supplied
Poverty is heroic in 'Call the Midwife'. Photo / Supplied

Call the Midwife (Sundays, 9.30pm, TV One) is a prosaic sort of a title. It certainly conveys exactly what a series set in the late 1950s about midwives is all about.

There are pregnant women and at some stage in their pregnancy they will call the midwife (from a phone booth if they're lucky enough to be able to afford to make a call from a phone booth), the midwife will arrive, there will be scenes of the sort you can't avoid in a series about midwives: of the aptly named laborious process of labour.

Whether or not you care for Call the Midwife might have a lot to do with your liking, or at least your tolerance, for watching scenes of women in labour.

I can't imagine who would have a liking for such scenes (and there is no new, or interesting way, to dramatise such scenes which cannot avoid panting, shrieking, blood and tears), but possibly there is a keen audience for such things.

And nobody could say they hadn't had fair warning: that title.

The really rather original thing about Call the Midwife is that it managed, in Sunday's first episode, to make almost romantic the following: grinding poverty; syphilitic lumps; a woman who may or may not have been brought home from the Spanish War at the age of 14 (possibly younger) by her East Ender husband, who is rough but tender, and with whom she has gone on to have 24 babies.

She was pregnant with the 25th (I think that's right; one did lose count) on Sunday night. She had a fall, hanging out the washing (all those kids and nobody to help with the housework?), delivered a baby everyone, including the newbie midwife, thought was dead, almost died herself, but, no!

The baby lived and so did the mother and this was a triumph of love. She was last seen, out by that blasted washing line, singing to the baby, in Spanish. Her husband had never learned Spanish; she had never learned English.

This too, presumably, was supposed to be viewed as a triumph of love. They had no need for a common language; their common language was the language of love, resulting in all of those babies.

The trouble with all of this - aside from the fact that it was as much of a sugar overload as the scene in which the mad nun steals the coconut cake and makes the newbie midwife help her guzzle it - is that it didn't make me come over all, "aw, ain't that luverly?" Twenty-odd babies, born into poverty, isn't remotely luverly.

The mad nun, Sister Monica Joan, adds a bit of loopy levity. She feels "vibrations" and thinks an aeroplane could be one of those things which deliver visitors from "other realms".

But I fear she is going to be one of those crackpots who will be used to deliver wisdom from other realms - the other realms being her history as a very good midwife, who has seen all of human life, and who is wise beyond her facade of nuttiness.

Call the Midwife is a world of milk floats and bobbies and Horlicks and pea soupers where poverty is seen as heroic. There was a scene at the end of Sunday's episode which summed it all up.

Newbie midwife (played prettily by Jessica Raine as a posh girl who could have been an air hostess, or a model but opted for the East End and living with mad nuns) had earlier been revolted by said syphilitic lump. She later went to visit the pox-ridden slapper, who had by now lost her baby.

Slapper: "I bet you think we're all slatterns round 'ere, doncha?"

Posh newbie midwife: "As a matter of fact, I think you're all heroines."

If that makes you think, "aw, ain't that luverly?", then Call the Midwife could be your cup of Horlicks.

Watch the trailer for Call the Midwife:

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

It has been said the only qualities essential for real success in journalism are a rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability. Despite having none of these things, Canvas deputy editor Greg Dixon has spent more than 20 years working as a journalist for the New Zealand Herald and North & South and Metro magazines. Although it has been rumoured that he embarked on his journalism career as the result of a lost bet, the truth is that although he was obsessed by the boy reporter Tintin as a child, he originally intended to be an accountant. Instead, after a long but at times spectacularly bad stint at university involving two different institutions, a year as a studio radio programme director and a still uncompleted degree, he fell into journalism, a decision his mother has only recently come to terms with. A graduate of the Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT) journalism school, he was hired by the Herald on graduation in 1992 and spent the next eight years demonstrating little talent for daily news, some for television reviewing and a passable aptitude for long-form feature writing. Before returning to the Herald in 2008 to take up his present role, he spent three years as a freelance, three as a senior feature writer at Metro and one as a staff writer at North & South. As deputy editor of Canvas, his main responsibility is applauding the decisions of the editor, Michele Crawshaw. However he prefers to spend his time interviewing interesting people -- a career highlight was a confusing 15-minute phone interview with a stoned Anna Nicole Smith -- and pretending to understand what they're going on about. He has won awards for his writing and editing, but would have preferred a pay rise.

Read more by Greg Dixon

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