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

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

  1. Call the Midwife series two episode five, tx. 17 February 2013. 

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.

Continue reading Call the Midwife Notes #1: Why Sunday nights?”

  1. Emily Nussbaum, ‘Crowning glory: The sneaky radicalism of Call the Midwife‘, The New Yorker, 20 June 2016, available at The series has been called ‘twee’ in many reviews, though one that sticks in the mind is an Independent review on 17 January 2016 which was responding to an episode which featured an unflinchingly graphic, angry response to the Thalidomide scandal. The television coverage in The Guardian is unsurprisingly a regular offender but this line was contested as early as 2012 by Sarah Dempster, who wrote that, despite it being ‘couched in the heritage footwear/cableknit bloodshed garb of Sunday evening tradition’, it had ‘a tenderness and sincerity’ and was ‘dedicated to social realism’. The review still described the Christmas special as serving a function as ‘a comforting pool of lamplit nostalgia’, but then the Christmas specials do often operate differently. Sarah Dempster, ‘Call the Midwife Christmas special: A refreshingly sincere treat’, The Guardian, TV OD, 21 December 2012. Even this praise dismisses the form. 

  2. Indeed, BBC One’s own continuity announcer used the words “gentle” and “nostalgia” to introduce Call the Midwife on 4 February 2018. It is surprising that one wing of the BBC should misunderstand its own programme seven series in, and be so unaware of the episode that followed the announcement, but the announcement was an attempt to segue from promotion for Hard Sun and McMafia, which echoes the gendered value judgements discussed elsewhere in this article. 

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.

Continue reading “Live soap: EastEnders and Coronation Street (2015)”

  1. Coronation Street tx. ITV, 23 September 2015; EastEnders: this piece will focus on the two episodes on 19 February 2015 and the live episode on 20 February 2015. 

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.

Continue reading This is England ’88 (2011)”

  1. This is England ‘88, Channel Four, tx. 13, 14, 15 December 2011. 

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.

Continue reading This is England ’86 (2010)”