Call the Midwife: Family, Faith & Surviving Motherhood in the ‘50s

Call the Midwife: Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) bikes through the streets of Poplar, East London Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz (c) Neal Street Productions

Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) bikes through the streets of Poplar, East London Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz (c) Neal Street Productions

Welcome to London’s East End in the late 1950s: the living conditions are cramped, the streets are dirty, and poverty is rampant. Within the Poplar neighbourhood, up to 100 babies are born each month to a range of mothers—both experienced and young—but there are limited medical resources available to properly care for them all.

Meet the Midwives of Nonnatus House. They travel on bicycles, carry their supplies by hand, and deliver expert nursing care to the pregnant women of the neigbourhood. Based on the best-selling memoirs of former East End Midwife, the late Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife is a brand new series making its Canadian premiere on VisionTV Wednesdays on VisionTV at 9pm ET/6pm PT from May 29th through July 3rd that offers a realistic glimpse into the joys of childbirth and the tragedy of poverty in 1950s East London. It’s another beautifully produced period drama that follows on the heels of our premiere broadcast of Downton Abbey Season 3.

Making its UK premiere in January and February 2012, this extremely popular series averaged 8.7 million viewers for each episode during its first season, marking it as the most-watched BBC One drama in a decade. The story follows newly qualified midwife Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine), who is initially in shock when she arrives at Nonnatus House. Expecting to work for a private hospital, she instead has to come to grips with working within a nursing convent that provides medical care to poverty-stricken area residents. The unsanitary living conditions and broken social situations are a shock to Jenny, who had a privileged upbringing and trained to become a nurse in Paris. Her innocence is challenged by the unique clients she faces—from a woman on her 25th pregnancy to a 15 year old mother—but she soon learns how to adapt. With the help of her fellow midwives and the nuns of Nonnatus House, Jenny forges tight bonds with her patients and soon comes to admire the bravery of the mothers that she meets.

Call the Midwife: Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) examining Pearl Winston (Lorraine Stanley) Photo: John Rogers (c) Neal Street Productions

Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) examining Pearl Winston (Lorraine Stanley) Photo: John Rogers (c) Neal Street Productions

Call the Midwife: Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter), Cynthia Miller (Bryony Hannah), Trixie Franklin (Helen George) and Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) Photo: John Rogers (c) Neal Street Productions

Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter), Cynthia Miller (Bryony Hannah), Trixie Franklin (Helen George) and Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) Photo: John Rogers (c) Neal Street Productions


Call the Midwife draws upon the personal memoir of Jennifer Worth, who recorded her experiences while working as a London midwife in the early years of the National Health Service. Although women in post-war London had to struggle with deplorable housing conditions, large families, various illnesses, and men who often drank heavily, home delivery was the norm. These women relied on the midwives who lived in the neighbourhood and visited patients in their homes despite the lack of clean water, clothes, and space. Home-based child delivery was a risky but celebrated process. Each successful birth was a miracle.

Call the Midwife’s episodes center on the often traumatic deliveries contrasted by light-hearted incidents at the covenant involving the other Midwives, as well as the characters’ romantic interests. The team of Midwives includes shy and awkward Chummy Browne (Miranda Hart), quiet and sensitive Nurse Cynthia Miller (Bryony Hannah) and outgoing Trixie Franklin (Helen George). The nuns of Nonnatus House play just as a critical a role in the series, from head nun Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter), tough and strict Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris), and knowledgeable Sister Bernadette (Laura Main). Eccentric Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) is the oldest nun of the convent and was one of the first midwives in Britain. Each episode also features narration from a mature Jenny Lee (voiced by Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave) who summarizes each lesson learned.

Call the Midwife presents a unique glimpse into an important period in London’s history. Using gritty realism mixed with a sense of optimism, the series sheds a light on the medical practices of the day, the extreme poverty, and the humanity behind the midwives of the harsh and hardscrabble East End.

Call the Midwife airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET/6pm PT from May 29th to July 3rd. For more on the show, including video extras and in-depth character profiles, visit our Call the Midwife microsite.

by Zoriana Zwarycz

To help get you primed for our Canadian premiere broadcast, here are two sneak peeks of the first episode of Call the Midwife.

Call the Midwife Sneak Peek #1: Muriel Gives Birth

Call the Midwife Sneak Peek #2: Jenny’s First Home Visit

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