Monday, April 3, 2017

Call the Midwife - Season 6

One of the best television series started its sixth season yesterday. Call the Midwife, on PBS, portrays an order of Anglican sisters and their lay colleagues who, from their religious base at Nonnatus House, treat the predominantly poor people of Poplar, a lower-class neighborhood in London's East End. (The first three seasons were based on the memoir of Jennifer Worth, a nurse who had worked with the Anglican sisters of the Community of Saint John the Divine, an Anglican nursing order founded in 1849.)

Beginning in the 1950s, the sisters and laywomen of Nonnatus House have served the people of Poplar, primarily the pregnant women and mothers and their children, combatting the complex health challenges of pregnancy and motherhood through the many exacerbating complications caused by poverty, prejudice, and family and social dysfunction - including situations which the context of the time made it difficult to acknowledge and approach sympathetically (e.g., single motherhood, homosexuality).  Last year's 5th season brought the story forward to the early 1960s - and to the terrible birth-defects crisis caused by the drug thalidomide.

As I wrote on this blog (May 23, 1916) at the end of that season, not since Going My Way has TV seriously tried to depict the simultaneously ordinary and challenging ministry of religious institutions in such a sympathetic way. Particularly powerful is the compelling presentation of the sisters and how they interact with the community, even while they struggle with their own distinctive vocation and their inner spiritual lives. The sisters, the lay midwives, the local doctor and his family, the local vicar, the constable, and other fixtures in the neighborhood sympathetically recreate the strong communal commitments that combined to ameliorate the dreary, difficult, deprived, and dangerous lives that poor East End slum dwellers endured.

Now comes season 6. Last night's season opener saw Nurse Gilbert at length happily engaged to the local vicar, Tom Hereward, while the doctor's wife is unexpectedly pregnant at last. Less happily, a more disruptive surprise came in the form of a new (and somewhat strict Superior), Sister Ursula (Harriet Walter, who played Lady Shackleton on Downtown Abbey), with the consequent demotion of the much beloved Sister Evangeline. More disturbingly, Sister Mary Cynthia, still suffering from the after-effects of what happened to her in season 5, was suddenly sent away. Meanwhile on the mean streets of Poplar, almost everyone connected with Nonnatus got drawn into in trying to help a pregnant mother (and her young son), who was being abused by her husband, who was himself just out of prison. After some harrowing scenes, somehow through the combined efforts of all, the new mother and her children were permanently relocated to safety, but not before highlighting the challenges facing an abused wife in the world of the early 1960s. All in all, a promising beginning to the new season, exploring both the blessings and the challenges of trying to make it day-to-day in a poor neighborhood and the blessings and the challenges experienced by those serving them while themselves committed to a consecrated form of life.

No comments:

Post a Comment