Call the Midwife Notes #2: Style and meaning; or, Trixie’s fingernails


Call the Midwife series two episode five Writer: Heidi Thomas; Director: China Moo-Young

Call the Midwife often makes skilful use of editing to interweave its lead characters with its guest characters. This aids storytelling, heightens our understanding of characters in their social environment and at times even complicates the position of the midwives in that environment. This essay will explore editing and other aspects of form in two sequences from Call the Midwife series two episode five, to explore the ways in which the problems of guest character Nora Harding are interwoven with two lead characters: the first sequence is a well-executed piece of storytelling, whilst the second is an extraordinary use of technique to devastating effect.1


Nora Harding (Sharon Small) is married with eight children and is pregnant again but makes it clear to midwife Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) that she wants to get rid of the baby: this makes Jenny uncomfortable and the systemic limits of her role become clear as her diligent advice about getting contraceptive advice after the birth clashes with her witnessing of Nora’s overcrowded rat-infested flat. The council cannot house eight children – they insist that the family cannot be relocated until a four-bedroom house is available, but they are not building such houses – and the National Health Service does not currently cover contraception. Nora cannot cope and is suicidal. She ultimately takes the only action that she can given the laws of the time: illegal abortion.

Call the Midwife Notes #1: Why Sunday nights?


Call the Midwife (BBC One, 2012-present) is the best drama series of the decade: one of contemporary television’s toughest, most consistently socially-concerned programmes. It is often misunderstood: despite a few perceptive pieces such as Emily Nussbaum’s description of the devastating fifth series as ‘sneaky radicalism’ in the New Yorker, many critics have passed over it as twee or nostalgic or have omitted it from drama-of-the-year polls.1 These critical tendencies say less about the programme than about perceptions of the timeslot: Sunday night, 8.00pm, on BBC One.2 Therefore, my post, the first of an occasional series on one of my favourite dramas, looks at the current status of the series, taking as a starting point critical responses to its Sunday night slot.


The makers of Call the Midwife themselves had reservations when the BBC proposed that slot. In 2012, Heidi Thomas, the creator of the series (developed for Neal Street Productions from the books by Jennifer Worth), recalled that:

Live soap: EastEnders and Coronation Street (2015)


BTVD_Coronation Street live_2015_1
This article presents some thoughts on special live episodes of soaps since 2010, in particular the editions of EastEnders and Coronation Street broadcast in February and September 2015 respectively.1 It identifies some of the ways in which the two series addressed liveness both textually and paratextually, as in their cross-platform interest in interactivity. Engaging with British television drama’s residual qualities of liveness, immediacy and intimacy, these episodes pose questions for our understanding of soap storytelling, in particular its handling of time. The following thoughts are unpolished reflections, taken from before and after a module screening, but form hopefully useful notes for others to develop, for instance in conjunction with this site’s other pieces on live drama across the decades and a forthcoming piece that will discuss soap time in more detail.

Introduction: Live!

This is England ’88 (2011)


Writers: Shane Meadows, Jack Thorne; Producer: Rebekah Wray-Rogers; Director: Shane Meadows

After the transmission of This is England ’86 a mere 14 months ago, Shane Meadows returned to our television screens with the three-part series This is England ’88.1 Produced by Warp and broadcast by Channel Four over three consecutive evenings, the series brings us up to date with the lives of Lol and Woody and the rest of the ’83 gang before the final outing with the forthcoming This is England ’90.

Collaborating once again with Jack Thorne, Meadows sets the series amongst the backdrop of Christmas 1988. Lol (Vicky McClure) is unemployed, a single mother struggling to cope with psychological illness and sleep deprivation; Woody (Joe Gilgun) has a secure job, new girlfriend and a supportive family; Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) has found his calling studying drama, but destroys his relationship with Smell (Rosamund Hanson) after a moment of childish infidelity; Milky (Andrew Shim) is practically an absent father to Lisa (his child with Lol), only returning with money and the odd gift every once in a while. The gang is all present, with the notable exception of Meggy (Perry Benson), with Woody and Lol going their separate ways. The gang seems to have gone through yet another phase of subcultural mobility, but there is no hint of development or progression. With Lol and Woody previously supervising the clique almost as parental guardians, the split in their relationship, and in turn, their distance from the gang has stagnating effects on their individual development. The dynamic of the gang prompts a strong feeling of inertia, rendering the characters as progressively stale and caricatured.

This is England ’86 (2010)


Writers: Shane Meadows, Jack Thorne; Directors: Tom Harper, Shane Meadows

See also: This is England ’88

After a prolific decade working in the realms of British cinema, Shane Meadows’s current retreat from feature filmmaking has seen the production of a much-hyped four-part televised sequel to the BAFTA-winning This is England (2006). Commissioned by Meadows’ long time affiliates, Channel Four, and co-written with Jack Thorne (Shameless/Skins/The Scouting Book for Boys), Meadows shared directorial duties on This is England ’86 with Tom Harper, best known for his work on Misfits and The Scouting Book for Boys. Like his earlier feature, the series presents the working-class youth of 1986 with a portrayal of regional life in Thatcher’s Britain that is at once romantic yet sinister. Picking up 3 years after This is England left off, the series combines typically carnivalesque humour with violent and disturbing scenes that echo the style of Alan Clarke. Despite the collaborative nature of the project, establishing shots of local authority housing and social dereliction visually set the series in the tradition of Meadows’ oeuvre.