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TV Reviews: Call the Midwife and A Vicar’s Life

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CALL THE MIDWIFE and A VICAR’S LIFE

CALL THE MIDWIFE: Sunday, BBC One

A VICAR’S LIFE: Friday, BBC Two

There is something quite magical about CALL THE MIDWIFE. Even after six years of sticking to a proven formula, it never feels cynical or tired. Why? Because it’s written, produced and performed with such obvious love and care.

When it first arrived in 2012 I dismissed it as just another cosy rose-tinted period drama. How wrong I was. Yes, it tugs at the heartstrings, but that emotion is earned. It springs from a sincere and intelligent commitment to confronting bleak reality.

Eternally relevant social issues are sensitively handled by series creator Heidi Thomas and her writers. Poverty, prejudice, domestic abuse and addiction are grist to their mill. Whenever sentimentality threatens to overwhelm, a sobering bowl of icy water is always on hand to dampen the flames. There’s humour too. The tone is beautifully judged.

The latest series began in the brutal winter of 1962/1963, with the tireless surrogate family members of Poplar’s nursing convent huddling for warmth while ominous reports of power cuts flickered around them.

The two main storylines dovetailed into a tender circle-of-life meditation on the importance of love and self-respect.

We met a lonely pregnant stripper who’d previously endured a backstreet termination. The midwives felt a breach birth was in order. Typically, it was shown in as much visceral detail as the timeslot will allow. Her instant bond with the baby changed her mind about giving it up for adoption. Perhaps they could rise above their misfortune together.

Meanwhile, an old German-Jewish man faced up to the fact that his beloved wife was dying of tuberculosis. They also had to contend with plans to demolish their street to make way for new flats (which will probably be knocked down 40 years later). This couple had fled from the Nazis. They’d worked hard to secure a good life for themselves in Britain. They weren’t going to let urban regeneration and death trample over their love, pride and dignity.

In lesser hands such pathos would by horribly overegged, but Thomas, as usual, yielded genuinely moving results.

Call the Midwife (Copyright BBC)

There was also a new addition to the principal cast, a young West Indian nurse. Her inclusion is typical of Call the Midwife’s historical accuracy. The understaffed NHS was on its knees until an influx of nurses arrived from the Commonwealth to support it.

The convent welcomed her with open arms and a warming nip of brandy, while expressing concern about the ignorant attitudes of certain members of their parish. Racism will inevitably rear its ugly head.

This exemplary series will, I’m sure, handle that issue with all the boldness and compassion we’ve come to expect.

There was more ecclesiastical altruism in A VICAR’S LIFE, a gentle documentary series about Church of England vicars struggling to remain relevant in our increasingly secular society.

Whether you’re a believer or not, there’s no doubting the charitable sincerity of the likes of Father Matthew. A commendably non-judgemental sort, the cassock-wearing curate came to the aid of a homeless woman living in a tent on a roundabout.

A Vicar’s Life (Copyright BBC)

Her sad story was an example of how people can easily slip through the cracks. Father Michael revealed that he’d also been homeless as a younger man. After being rescued by a benefactor, he vowed to always help the most vulnerable members of society whenever he could.

Well, how about that? The kindness of strangers can still prevail in this Godforsaken world. There may be some hope after all.

 TV HIGHLIGHTS of THE WEEK

TWO DOORS DOWN

Monday, BBC Two, 10pm

Two Doors Down (Copyright BBC)

Elaine C. Smith, Jonathan Watson and co return for a third series of this sitcom set in a Glasgow suburb. It’s Burns Night, and the neighbours gather for a celebration fraught with the usual social discomfort.

INSIDE NO. 9

Tuesday, BBC Two, 10pm

Inside No. 9 (Copyright BBC)

Guest stars Zoe Wanamaker and Noel Clarke join series creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith for a waspish showbiz satire about a jury squabbling over a Best Actor Award ahead of a major annual ceremony.

CAN YOU REBUILD MY BRAIN?

Tuesday, Channel 4, 10pm

When Lotje Sodderland was 34, her brain was permanently damaged by a stroke that nearly killed her. This documentary follows her as she meets neuroscience experts who are using ground-breaking treatments to repair ‘broken’ brains.

REQUIEM

Friday, BBC One, 9pm

Requiem (Copyright BBC)

In this new psychological thriller, a young woman tries to solve the mystery of her mother’s inexplicable suicide. When she discovers a box of her mother’s items relating to a girl who went missing from a Welsh village years ago, she goes there to find out more.

FILM of THE WEEK

12 ANGRY MEN

Tuesday, Film4, 2:55pm

12 Angry Men (Copyright United Artists)

This classic legal drama from 1957 tells the gripping and provocative story of a jury deliberating over the guilt or acquittal of a young defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt. Set almost entirely within one room, it’s a claustrophobic tug-of-war between 12 men of conflicting and often dubious views. Director Sidney Lumet skilfully builds a rising tide of intensity as his actors, including Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman and Lee J. Cobb, deliver a slew of impressive performances.

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