95% Rotten Tomatoes
Created by Heidi Thomas
Original language(s) English
Networks BBC One, PBS
Country of origin United Kingdom
Narrated by Vanessa Redgrave
|Based on Memoirs of Jennifer Worth|
Starring Jessica RaineMiranda HartLaura MainJenny AgutterPam FerrisJudy ParfittHelen GeorgeBryony HannahStephen McGannCliff ParisiEmerald FennellVictoria YeatesLinda BassettCharlotte RitchieBen CaplanJack AshtonKate LambJennifer Kirby
Composer(s) Peter SalemMaurizio Malagnini
Awards National Television Award for Outstanding Drama Performance (Female)
Cast Helen George, Jenny Agutter, Miranda Hart, Laura Main, Judy Parfitt
Similar Casualty (TV series), EastEnders, The Crown (TV series)
Call the Midwife is a BBC period drama series about a group of nurse midwives working in the East End of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It stars Jessica Raine, Miranda Hart, Helen George, Bryony Hannah, Laura Main, Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris, Judy Parfitt, Cliff Parisi, Stephen McGann, Ben Caplan, Emerald Fennell, Victoria Yeates, Linda Bassett and Charlotte Ritchie. The series is produced by Neal Street Productions, a production company founded and owned by the film director and producer Sam Mendes, Call the Midwife executive producer Pippa Harris, and Caro Newling. The first series, set in 1957, premiered in the UK on 15 January 2012.
The series was created by Heidi Thomas, originally based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth who worked with the Community of St. John the Divine, an Anglican religious order, at their convent in the East End in London. The order was founded as a nursing order in 1849. The memoirs have since been expanded to include new, historically sourced material. For the most part it depicts the day-to-day lives of the midwives and those in their local neighbourhood of Poplar, with certain historical events of the era having a direct or indirect effect on the characters and storylines. Such events include: the knock-on effects of the post-World War II baby boom, post-war immigration and the 1948 founding of the NHS in the first series and beyond; the introduction of gas and air as a form of pain relief and unexploded ordnance in the second series; the Child Migrants Programme and the threat of nuclear warfare (including emergency response guidelines issued by local Civil Defence Corps) in the fourth series; and the thalidomide scandal and the introduction of the contraceptive pill in the fifth series.
Call the Midwife achieved very high ratings in its first series, making it the most successful new drama series on BBC One since 2001. Since then four more series of eight episodes each have aired year-on-year, along with an annual Christmas special broadcast every Christmas Day since 2012. It is also broadcast in the United States on the PBS channel, with the first series starting on September 30, 2012. In December 2015, BBC director general Tony Hall announced the show had already been commissioned for a 2016 Christmas special and a sixth series of another eight episodes to be broadcast in early 2017, taking the characters and plot into 1962. In November 2016, Charlotte Moore, Director of BBC Content, announced that the drama had been commissioned for a further three series of eight episodes and three more Christmas specials – taking the total number of series up to nine and the story into 1965.
Critical reception for the show (in both the UK and the US) has been mostly positive, and the series has won numerous awards and nominations since its original broadcast. The show has also been praised for tackling a variety of topical subjects and contemporary social, cultural and economic issues, including local community, miscarriage and stillbirths, abortion and unwanted pregnancies, birth defects, poverty, illness and disease epidemics, prostitution, incest, religion and faith, racism and prejudice, alcoholism, disability, (illegal) homosexuality, female genital mutilation, and maternal, paternal and romantic love.
The plot follows newly qualified midwife Jenny Lee, and the work of midwives and the nuns of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent, and part of an Anglican religious order, coping with the medical problems in the deprived Poplar district of London's desperately poor East End, in the 1950s. The Sisters and midwives carry out many nursing duties across the community. However, with between 80 and 100 babies being born each month in Poplar alone, the primary work is to help bring safe childbirth to women in the area and to look after their countless newborns.
Cast and characters
Call the Midwife is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, featuring narration – and an appearance in the 2014 Christmas Special – by Vanessa Redgrave as an older Jenny.
The ship in the opening titles is the Shaw, Savill & Albion Line liner QSMV Dominion Monarch in dry dock at the King George V Dock and the road is Saville Road, Silvertown, east London. Many of the exterior scenes are shot at the Chatham Historic Dockyard.
On 11 February 2013, Ben Stephenson, BBC Controller for Drama, announced that he had commissioned a 2013 Christmas special, and a third series of eight episodes to air in 2014. The fourth series aired in the US in 2015, finishing its eight episode run on 17 May. A Christmas special aired in 2015 as well.
A fifth series was commissioned for 2016, shortly after series four was done filming. A sixth series was commissioned, which included a 2016 Christmas episode that took place in South Africa. On 23 November 2016, the BBC announced a three-year deal with Neal Street Productions, commissioning a seventh, eighth and ninth series, all with Christmas specials. The new commission will keep the series on air until at least 2020.
In May 2012, BBC Worldwide and the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) announced that the first series of Call the Midwife would premiere in the United States on 30 September 2012. BBC Worldwide has also sold the programme to SVT (Sweden); NRK (Norway); RÚV (Iceland); Yle (Finland); AXN White (Spain; Portugal); ERT (Greece); ABC in Australia and TVNZ in New Zealand, where its debut recorded a 35% share of the audience – 20% above average. In July 2012 BBC Worldwide announced it has sold the global Video on Demand rights of the programme to Netflix. According to BBC Worldwide America executive vice-president of sales and co-productions Matt Forde, BBC expects to sign another 13 to 15 deals for Call the Midwife with other international download-to-own and VoD services by the end of 2012.
The second series of Call the Midwife has been sold to PBS for transmission from 31 March 2013 and to SVT (Sweden) for transmission from 19 May 2013. In February 2013, BBC Worldwide reported that Call the Midwife had been sold in over one hundred global territories, with global sales contributing to the UK's position as the second largest TV exporter behind the United States. In February 2017, it was reported that the BBC had exported Call the Midwife to 237 global territories.
A second series of eight episodes aired in the UK in early 2013. The series achieved a consolidated series average of 10.47 million viewers. A third eight-part series aired in the UK from January 2014, with a consolidated average of 10.53 million.
On 28 February 2014, BBC confirmed that Call the Midwife had been commissioned for a 2014 Christmas special and fourth series, to air in 2015. On 3 November 2014, BBC announced that an eight-episode fifth series had been commissioned; it began airing on 17 January 2016; the fifth series takes the story into 1961. The sixth series began airing in the UK on 22nd January 2017, taking the drama into 1962.
The first series was released in a Region 2, two-disc set on 12 March 2012. Series 2 was scheduled for release on 1 April 2013 in the UK (region 2) with a collector's edition, Call the Midwife Collection, containing series 1, 2 and the 2012 Christmas Special, released on the same date.
In the United States, the first series was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 6 November 2012. Series 2 was scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-ray on 18 June 2013. Series 3 was released on Blu-ray on 20 May 2014. Series 4 was released on Blu-ray on 19 May 2015.
A second series of Call the Midwife was immediately commissioned after the drama's opening episode attracted an audience of nearly 10 million viewers. The second episode increased its audience to 10.47 million, while the third continued the climb to 10.66. Episode 4's rating of 10.89 million overtook 2010 ITV hit Downton Abbey as the largest first series audience for original drama on British television in recent years.
In the United States, the series 1 transmission on PBS drew an average household audience rating of 2.1, translating into 3.0 million viewers – 50 percent above PBS' primetime average for the 2011–12 series.
The autumn 2012 PBS broadcast of the first series of Call the Midwife in the United States received widespread critical acclaim, earning a Metacritic score of 8.0. The Wall Street Journal declared that "this immensely absorbing drama is worth any trouble it takes to catch up with its singular pleasures", while The Washington Post stated that "the cast is marvelous, the gritty, post-war set pieces are meticulously recreated". TV Guide called the series "a delight to watch", while the San Francisco Chronicle described it as "sentimental, poignant and often heartbreaking".
The second series opened with a record overnight audience of 9.3 million UK viewers, going on to achieve a consolidated series average of 10.47 million viewers. This was almost two million above the slot average, and by some distance the most popular UK drama in every week of transmission. When viewing figures from BBC's iPlayer video streaming service and a narrative repeat were included as part of the BBC Live Plus 7 metric, the total number of viewers per week was found to be almost 12 million.
The critical reception for series two has praised the programme's sharp blend of prime-time period charm and hard-hitting social commentary. Caitlin Moran in The Times called this "an iron hand in a velvet glove", while Allison Pearson in The Daily Telegraph lauded its ability to "tickle the middle of the brow while touching the most anguished parts of the human condition". In particular, commentators have noted the attention given to female social issues in the drama's post-war, pre-pill setting. Alison Graham in the Radio Times dubbed Call the Midwife "a magnificently subversive drama" and "the torchbearer of feminism on television," while Caitlin Moran claimed the series encapsulated "how unbelievably terrifying, dreary and vile it was to be a working-class woman 60 years ago.".