I’m getting the feeling this series of Call the Midwife is very much about making us aware that the sixties, though modern in many of our minds, was not an enlightened time for women. In this episode we encounter a girl whose life is compromised by concerns for her reputation as “damaged goods.” Two women are afraid to report acts of violence against them for fear of being judged or punished as well. Here’s my summary of this eye-opening installment.
The Hills’ Family Secret – At the Poplar pensioners’ tea, we meet Thora Hills (Sarah Durham), mother of four with one on the way. Trixie asks why they haven’t seen her yet and she reveals she’s jumped ship for the clinic at St. Cuthbert’s. They want her to have the baby in hospital due to her age.
Soon afterwards, we meet Thora’s daughter Diane (Jill McAusland) who works at the fish stall with her mother. While Thora is scrubbing the pavement in her delicate condition, a younger, fitter Diane is working the till. Thora explains to a customer that Diane is much stronger at math so she’s needed to handle the money, rather than doing the “donkey’s work.”
But that unlikely explanation is soon revealed as a lie when at the Hills’ home we learn that it is Diane who is pregnant (and abandoned by the father) while her mother stuffs a pillow up her dress and pretends to be with child instead. Once Diane delivers in secret, Thora will claim to be the baby’s mother and her daughter’s reputation will be preserved unlike the other girls who deliver at the mothers and babies home.
Later on at the market, Diane’s water breaks. Thora hustles her right out of there and, once home, hides her away from the other children. With her own extensive birthing experience, Thora helps Diane through the painful labor and successfully delivers a baby boy.
Alas there is a complication when Diane is unable to deliver the afterbirth. Thora runs to the phone box to contact Nonnatus House for some advice. Instead of a midwife, Dr. Godfrey (William Hoyland), a retired doctor filling in for the vacationing Dr. Turner, takes the call. Not realizing he isn’t talking to a midwife, he tells her to employ Brandt Andrews, a technique for expelling the placenta from the uterus, and a good pull on the cord.
Returning home with this bit of not fully understood knowledge, Thora ignores whatever Brandt Andrews is and gives a mighty pull on her daughter’s umbilical cord. (In my opinion, this has to be one of the most harrowing delivery scenarios so far on CTM). Diane cries out in agony and still no placenta has been delivered.
Fortunately, Trixie encounters Dr. Godfrey in the hallway and surmises that the rather careless doctor has given medical instruction to a civilian not a midwife. She wakes Sister Mary Cynthia and they head off to the Hills’ flat. Too late to stop Thora from pulling Diane’s womb out of position, Trixie does what she can to alleviate the damage until an ambulance arrives.
At the hospital, Diane is taken into surgery for a uterine inversion and Thora is devastated with guilt for almost killing her daughter. In recovery, she tells Diane that she was wrong to put her concern for what the neighbors might think above her well-being. From now on, she wants to tell the truth and Diane will be publically acknowledged as the baby’s mother.
The Biting Assailant – As Tom and Barbara head home from seeing Whistle Down the Wind at the pictures, they encounter a terrified neighborhood mum and part-time prostitute named Lizzie (Rosie Jones). She’s running from an attacker and Barbara, who is trying to patch up her injuries, is most concerned about a brutal looking bite on her shoulder. Despite Tom and Barbara’s encouragement, Lizzie refuses to go to the police.
The next day Barbara tells Sgt. Noakes about the bite attack and Lizzie’s adamancy to not report it. In a kind but rather condescending way, he is sorry for what Nurse Gilbert has had to see, but Barbara is not shocked by the fact Lizzie is a prostitute. They see them often in the clinic for pregnancy and venereal diseases. Sgt. Noakes confirms the reasons Lizzie will not talk to him; she could be fined or put in jail for prostitution and her children could be taken away, no matter how viciously she was attacked.
Meanwhile new mother Judith Coleman (Jasmyn Banks) is suffering the common but nerve-wracking plight of a newborn with colic. Sister Julienne suggests a pre-bedtime walk to calm the baby and help Judith get some much needed sleep as well. That very night we see Mrs. Coleman walking her baby in the pram. As the baby screams and she tries to sing a song to calm the child, the mother is very obviously distraught.
Sister Julienne stops by to check on the Coleman family and finds Judith not only unsettled, but bruised as well. She claims to be clumsy these days and walked into a door, but the nun notices an ominous bite mark on her shoulder.
Since she can get nothing further out of Mrs. Coleman, Julienne goes to Peter Noakes (the only policeman in Poplar apparently) to ask for his advice. She is hesitant to accuse a seemingly kind man, but can’t help suspecting Judith’s husband of domestic abuse. However, when she mentions the bite mark, Peter puts two and two together and says he’ll try to make some inquires.
Subsequently Peter shows up at Nonnatus House to ask Barbara to join him in trying to persuade Lizzie to report her attack. If the culprit could be Mr. Coleman, he doesn’t want to tip him off by going to see Judith first. He also wonders if Mrs. Coleman might also be soliciting on the side. (My goodness, the job has hardened you, Sgt. Noakes!)
As Peter and Barbara stake out a patch frequented by prostitutes, he comments that most professionals are in brothels now – only the desperate amateurs walk the streets. Barbara spots Lizzie, but the woman won’t talk about the assault. She blames her husband who abandoned her for her current predicament. If he had stayed she wouldn’t be selling herself to support their kids.
Since neither of the victims will talk, Sgt. Noakes asks Fred Buckle and his Civil Defense Corps volunteers for help with nighttime patrols to deter or perhaps apprehend the assailant. Fred is happy to assist in keeping the neighborhood safe though his comrades aren’t so thrilled with the hours (9 PM to dawn). They also don’t seem to think ladies of the night are worthy of their protection.
That is, not until a blameless woman falls victim to our serial attacker. After cleaning up after the Hills’ botched afterbirth emergency, Sister Mary Cynthia stops by the river to pray. A man comes up behind and grabs her. The next thing we see, Cynthia’s been badly beaten and left unconscious on the docks. When she comes to, she finds her way home.
Sister Mary Cynthia doesn’t want to be touched or treated kindly. Nor does she want to speak to the police. She is angry and unsure of what God wants from her, if anything at all. When she stopped to pray she felt God was at her shoulder, but there was someone else behind her the whole time.
Trixie and Patsy try to dissuade her from taking a bath, but since she claims she was not raped she doesn’t heed their pleas. Trixie just tearfully asks her old friend to please not lock the door as she obviously fears for her state of mind.
Shortly after, Sister Monica Joan enters the bathroom but says nothing. Finally Cynthia begins to cry and Monica Joan holds her and helps her bathe. As expected, the nun has an enigmatic bit of counsel to share. “There is a time to mortify the flesh and a time to cherish it and marvel at its strength.”
Next we learn that Judith Coleman didn’t want to talk to the police because on that night we saw her with the pram, she had walked away from the baby on the sidewalk for a short while to get away from the crying and had then been accosted. She was afraid if she told her account, she would be seen as an unfit mother and her son would have been taken away. Sister Julienne tells her she did nothing wrong.
Around a somber dinner table at Nonnatus House, Sister Mary Cynthia tells everyone that she has changed her mind. She will go to the police because the other women have something to lose and, despite her many fears, this is not one of them. At the station she gives her account, describes her assailant and pictures are taken of her injuries.
Peter apparently consults with a tattoo expert who recognizes the markings as Soviet prison tattoos. Peter seeks out merchant marines from Soviet ships and catches the man who has been terrorizing Poplar. Thankfully Cynthia recognized this trial as a test of strength to tell the truth and not be ashamed and probably saved several lives in the process.
The Turners Take a Soggy Holiday – When Timothy Turner catches his dad asleep at work, he begins to hatch a plan along with his mother to arrange a holiday for the family.
When he comes home for dinner the next day, Dr. Turner finds himself sitting down to a fancy dinner - Chicken a la King with piped potatoes and creamed spinach- and a week-long camping holiday starting the next day. A locum has been arranged (the aforementioned Dr. Godfrey) as well as camping equipment borrowed from the Cub Scouts. Patrick is touched and surprised.
Dr. Godfrey arrives the next day are dealing with last minute packing. The unfailingly efficient Nurse Crane has the admin all under control as well as a roof rack at the ready for all the camping gear. Dr. Godfrey is impressed with Nurse Crane’s command and makes the mistake of assuming her retired as well. She takes offense and firmly sets him straight which makes him even more smitten with her than he would have been.
After the Turners have loaded the car and the midwives have finished laughing at a pasty-legged Patrick in shorts and socks, the family heads off to the Sunny Vista campground where, of course, rain is coming down in buckets. The children’s tent won’t stay up and so Timothy and Angela have to join their parents for the evening just as they were getting a little frisky.
The family makes it through the night, but the rain continues. Angela is afraid of squirrels and the family is engaged in a half-hearted game of I Spy. The campfire is making Shelagh cough which serves to remind Patrick about his chest clinic and his concern over a retired doctor caring for his patients. He finally makes an executive decision and relocates the family to a hotel he saw down the road.
That evening Dr. Turner puts a call into Nonnatus House and learns about the emergency with Diane Hills. Ever the devoted physician, he declares the holiday over and the soggy Turners return home to Poplar.
So how did the issues in this episode strike you? Laws have obviously changed over the years, but is that enough? The bright side in this episode is that if people are brave enough and speak the truth, attitudes can change. Like Trixie finally telling Patsy and Delia that she attends AA meetings, for example.
I’d like a little more truth about Chummy though. The first we hear of her this entire series and it’s that she’s taking a pottery class!? Why does that keep her from showing her face anywhere around Poplar? We know she won’t be back until next series, but I’d like a better backstory as to why she’s not around.
There are only two more episodes to go so let’s get a good chat going. How has series five been for you? What do you hope to see as it comes to a close? Share away in the comments section below!