Judge Gordon Sullivan prefers the Lamaze method.
Your favorite midwives return!
As the third season of Call the Midwife aired, the UK was in the throes of a strange political upheaval. With a vote for Scottish looming on the horizon, Britain's United Kingdom Independence Party was rallying for a return to the conservative values of the past. From an American perspective, it's a bit funny. When conservatives in the U.S. want a return to American greatness, they usually mean the 50s, the height of conservative family values in the post-war period. In contrast, were Britain to return to the 1950s, it would turn to a period of privation in the years after the war and the moment when its policies were at their most liberal, especially in establishing the National Health Service, essentially guaranteeing every British citizen free healthcare. The narrative of Call the Midwife starts when the NHS was still new and largely unknown. By this, the third series, the NHS and its services are firmly established, even as the women of Nannatus House face numerous changes. This series keeps the core of the show intact while moving the characters through changes that make both dramatic and historical sense.
When last we left the ladies of Nannatus House, their grand old building was under threat of being condemned, and Sister Bernadette (Laura Main, Murder City) had left the order to marry the doctor. This series opens with the 2013 Christmas Special, which features a newly-discovered unexploded bomb leftover from World War II that sends everyone into a tizzy as they have to evacuate. Jenny (Jessica Raine, The Woman in Black) has herself a new boyfriend, and the rest of the ladies of the house face numerous challenges in addition to the regular rotation of births.
Call the Midwife is a show that's largely about reveling in nostalgia for another era, that strange moment when the privations of the post-War period were starting to lift and anything seemed possible. It would be easy for the show the succumb to that nostalgia, merely using its characters as an excuse to explore the bygone era of the late 1950s. Luckily for viewers, Call the Midwife has yet to abandon its commitment to developing its characters. Though I don't want to give too much away, I can say that pretty much everyone gets a significant piece of character progress over the nine episodes collected here. There are triumphs and tragedies as everyone works through their situation trying to balance the crazy life that Nannatus house imposes on its residents.
There are only so many complications the show's "pregnancy of the week" formula can throw at the characters, so this series pulls back a bit to give us a bit more historical context. We have the unexploded bomb and a soldier with PTSD looking backwards to World War II, as well as some references to the "ban the bomb" movement that point towards the '60s and its protest movements. We're still emphatically pre-Beatles, but a change is definitely in the air with this season.
The series does a fine job keeping up the plots. We've got everything from a delivery in a women's prison to a different take on an interracial pregnancy. The show also deals with advancements in peri-natal care (including recent developments like Lamaze), as well as the technological and monetary limitations that made pregnancy especially difficult in London's poor East End.
Call the Midwife: Season Three (Blu-ray) continues the trend from earlier seasons. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers are fine. Black levels seem to be a bit better this time out. Otherwise, detail is generally, strong, colors muted but appropriate, and compression artifacts not apparent. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo tracks are similarly strong, with clean dialogue and well-balanced music. Extras include a set of interviews with the cast and crew.
I'm still not entirely sure why Call the Midwife is such a big hit. I enjoy the episodes as they're playing, and all the production aspects are up to snuff, but ultimately I don't feel like I need to see another batch of episodes in the way the best shows make me feel. The show is also not for the squeamish. Pretty much every episodes features a bloody baby emerging from a woman. There are no shots of genitals or anything, but the babies are definitely covered in blood and there are definite squelching sounds.
I don't want to give too much away, but things are definitely going to change for the next season, and those changes are pretty strongly telegraphed with these eight episodes. Some fans may object to the turn the series is taking.
Those who enjoyed the first two series of Call the Midwife will find plenty to love in this third series. The characters all get to grow, the stories are still heart-warming (and occasionally heart-breaking), and the historical setting is used to good effect. One might wish for a bit more in the way of special features, but overall this DVD set is worth at least a rental for fans of the show. Anyone with an interest in British period drama should go back and start with the first series.
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Studio: BBC Video
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