Arts & Entertainment

Bittersweet Beginnings For PBS Hit

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BBC One’s “Call the Midwife” returned on April 2 for its sixth season on PBS, and it seems that both sentimental and startling new changes are in store for the nuns and midwives of Nonnatus House.

Created by Heidi Thomas, the British period drama chronicles the trials and joys of childbearing, depicting the hectic lives of hardworking midwives at an Anglican convent in London’s East End during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Most of the action takes place in the East End’s close-knit, impoverished neighborhood of Poplar. There, the nuns and midwives are busy at work caring for families and expectant mothers struggling to survive amidst the domestic pressures and medical crises of the era.

The sixth season opens in 1962, and while a new decade may mean more advances in science and technology, the problems that always persist amidst the squalor of the East End remain the same.

Rather, it’s some of the characters themselves that have undergone changes, and this leads to interesting and surprising plot developments.

In the spirit of change, Sister Ursula (Dame Harriet Walter) replaces the loving Sister Julienne (Jenny Agutter) as the head of Nonnatus House. Under the management of a new, austere frontrunner, the nuns’ and midwives’ once lively spirits are somewhat subdued, making for a rather solemn opening to a season that brims with bittersweet beginnings.

Helen George returns to the series for her sixth season as Trixie Franklin. Courtesy of Neal Street Productions

While Nurse Trixie Franklin (Helen George) is stationed at Hope Clinic in South Africa, Nonnatus House seems to lack some of the vivacity that her presence often provided. Naturally, this lack of energy should leave fans of the series wondering if the beloved Nurse Chummy (Miranda Hart) will make an appearance this season. Her laughable quips and comforting words always seem to quell the show’s tense moments. Considering the serious undertone established so far, Chummy’s easygoing personality would certainly provide some welcomed comic relief.

While the series still boasts brilliant and poignant writing, this season’s character developments and plot lines hold a darker, more serious tone.

Like previous seasons, the sixth season focuses heavily on the lives of Poplar’s struggling families to guide the plot and emphasize the midwives’ roles as diligent caretakers of the community. The season opens with a dark and disturbing story about a pregnant mother tormented by her highly abusive husband alongside their young son. Emotions are festered to an unfathomable extent during this opening narrative, and it feels as though the start of a new decade coincides with the formation of new fears and frightening possibilities.

Meanwhile, Sister Mary Cynthia’s (Bryony Hannah) mental condition worsens as she continues to recover from injuries she sustained after a vicious attack on a dusky shipyard dock that left her bloody, bruised and shaken. For the first time in its history, the series delves into the complexity of mental illness in a way that is viscerally realistic and utterly heartbreaking.

As she struggles to find solace in her faith, Sister Mary Cynthia is sent to the motherhouse by the unfeeling Sister Ursula. In the meantime, her fellow sisters and midwives wait anxiously for a successful recovery, as they worry about her future course of treatment.

Charlotte Richie plays Barbara Gilbert in “Call the Midwife,” a series which recently returned to PBS for its sixth season. Courtesy of Neal Street Productions

Although the new season appears to be marked by gloom, a promising prospect arises for Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann) when his wife, Shelagh (Laura Main), reveals she is pregnant. Meanwhile, Nurse Barbara Gilbert (Charlotte Ritchie) and Rev. Tom Hereward (Jack Ashton) continue making wedding plans after his sudden proposal during last year’s Christmas special.

With baby preparations on the horizon and the so peal of church bells in the distance, it seems like positive changes lay ahead for at least some of the show’s characters.

Since its first episode, “Call the Midwife” has seamlessly managed to juggle dark, realistic themes with uplifting lessons about hope and love, and it seems like this latest season will be no exception.

With the talented Heidi Thomas still standing at the helm of this exceptional series, viewers can feel assured that the show will continue to be as heartwarming and insightful as it was the day it first aired. Fans, keep the kettle boiling and pour yourself another cup of tea because the sixth season is already a delight.

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