10-16 July 2015 #766

Call the Midwife

Series so rooted in historical context, with a spectacular ensemble cast, and written with equal parts humour and compassion
Sophia Pande

Earlier this week, The International New York Times’ two veteran film critics, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, published a discussion, as they periodically do, on their thoughts regarding a marked rise (at least this past year) in female centric films such as Pitch Perfect 2, Spy, Inside Out, and most recently Mad Max: Fury Road starring Charlize Theron as a ferocious, furious character who makes war against the patriarchy.

Their discussion is a crucial one at this time as films and TV shows move further away, however slowly, from white, male centric plotlines that are designed for the usual audiences that mostly consist of the aforementioned. Both Ms. Dargis and Mr. Scott (the latter of whom self-admittedly falls into the above category) speculate on the effect that increased female viewing power has on the nature of the content of successful shows, which brings us, quite neatly, to the question of the smashing success of Call the Midwife, a wildly unlikely BBC One production that is now firmly in its fourth season with a fifth in the works.

Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a real life midwife who served in London’s impoverished East End in the 1950s and 1960s – the series follows the dedicated nuns, and the trained midwifes who commit to Nonnatus House and its mission of delivering infants from all walks of life safely into the world.

If the words “midwife” and “babies” have already sent you screaming into the hills, whether you are a man or a woman, I would regardless ask you to watch this gem of a series, so rooted in historical context, with a spectacular ensemble cast, and written with equal parts humour and compassion, with many episodes that will leave you openly weeping. To quote Dargis who, in turn, so astutely and eloquently quotes George Eliot, we need art that can help people “to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling, erring, human creatures.”

Watching cinema is an instinctive act of empathy. If we are to evolve further, and not just in the way we view art and cinema, we must extrapolate the lessons learnt from the arts, moving towards practicing a deeper, truer version of empathy starting with the writing of our constitution. The drafters of which do not seem to understand that the country around them is made up of a complex mixture of people who may differ from them in gender, culture, and colour but are as deserving of the rights as themselves.

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