2 Dual Layer BD Discs (50G)
1080I Video in MPEG4 (AWBR 28Mbps-32Mbps)
LPCM 2.0 Audio
The Story: 4.5 / 5
UK Television has been on a roll lately. It’s no secret that Downton Abbey maintains its fantastic popularity and Sherlock found itself on many American screens thanks to PBS. What makes these series so successful is in part great script writing, solid casts and excellent attention to sets and details in period based material. But the more I watch, the more I realize that what assists the BBC more than anything else is compact, tight seasons that are cleanly scripted out in their entirety to fill a full, short season. This format allows an audience to commit to a show knowing that in 6, 10 or 12 episodes they can see the entirety of a season story. If renewed, we’ll see more stories that extend the characters we care about. If not, we are left at a point where the audience can feel OK with how it all ends.
American TV shows recently have decided to devote so much of their writing to developing a longterm arch/mythos that they have difficulty latching on in the first year, leaving the audience unfulfilled and far less likely to commit to network series that leave them hanging.
The BBC model, on the other hand provides audience that assurance that you can buy in, see a story to a finish point, and whether it continues or not, you’ll feel pretty satisfied with the amount of time you put in. This method of scriptwriting really works for Call the Midwife.
Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife brings us into Post-WWII era Britain, a country trying hard to put itself back on proper footing in a lot of ways. While Downton Abbey gives us a picture of Britain of aristocracy and those who are servants, Call the Midwife gives us a hard scrabble life of Britain coming to terms with the destruction of the war, a boom of babies in the post war era, and a society that is beginning to break from the traditions that defined them.
Call the Midwife has been called by some as a “Hallmark Card” focusing on the uplifting moments and the people who want to do good in the world. My wife had joked that it reminded her a bit of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. But that being said, the show really does work as a show focusing on characters who have a desire to help the people around them. Despite the calls by critics to “darken” the show – I find the charm of this show is that the characters themselves are making an effort to be good people dealing with a difficult situation. There doesn’t always need to be an evil antagonist, this show is about the struggles of a society making change, and good people who are there to help it along. Call it a bit of affirmation TV.
But just because the characters are good, and the show has a lot of charm, don’t believe for an instant that there aren’t some gruesome moments, troubled pregnancies, loss, fear and panic and lots of blood. The scripts effectively portray the country as seeing real hope as they work to reach the needs of the needy and underserved.
Despite the focus on the lead, I have to say that Judy Parfitt is a stand out here, playing Sister Monica Joan. Her role is so good, an obviously brilliant mind in a nun who is either struggling with dementia or alzheimers, Parfitt manages to make the audience both laugh with her and at the same time wonder how much of her characters brilliant mind is being lost without people around her understanding. It is so well played that by the time I was to the 4th or 5th episode, I was just beginning to realize that Sister Monica Joan wasn’t just different, her character was instead someone who was being mentally changed in some way and her outbursts of odd facts, famous writings and more were a way to keep control over who she was. As the characters discussed her dementia – and a doctor points out that her late night stroll without shoes and most clothes is a good indicator Sister Monica Joan resists receiving antibiotics. You get the feel from the fellow nuns that she’s just being obstinate but that she may be making the choice that now is the time, and this illness may be the time for her to leave the world with some dignity in tact. Miranda Hart, as Chummy takes her role and makes the most of it giving us a wide open view of the world that steals most scenes she's in.
Video Quality 4 / 5
As with most BBC programs, this is presented in 1080I, encoded in MPEG4 with an AWBR of 28.2Mbps and a high of 35Mbps. The video is effectively rendered and presents a very pleasant picture. Deep, rich colors and inky blacks help really sell the storyline. In comparison with several prior BBC releases, I found Call the Midwife to have the right amount of room to breathe on Blu-Ray.
Audio Quality 3 / 5
I have mixed feelings abou the audio. The discs provide only LPCM 2.0, no alternatives. The audio is fine, however there are moments where the 2.0 soundtrack simply fails to capture the feel of the environment. This is especially true in the use of music and background noises that sometimes fall flat. That having been said, it is presented exactly as it aired, so asking for an upconvert for Bluray is not necessarily presenting it the way it was intended.
Still, it’s hard to reward a soundtrack that doesn’t seem to succeed nearly well enough to get high marks.
Extras 1.5 / 5
There is really only one extra on this 2 disc set, Wimples, Babies and Bicycles – Giving Birth to Call the Midwife. The ten minute segment is interesting but it’s not much above a standard behind the scenes short. Cast interviews and discussion of what brought them to the series and what it’s like to where the garb of a 1950s nun.
Summary: 3.5 / 5
In so many ways, I’d love to rank this higher. The storyline is good fun, and I get the feeling that a lot of people will really enjoy the production values of the show itself. It’s like I said, we buy the discs for the show, not the extras. But the lack of any real extras as well as overall presentation make this a secondary purchase for a lot of people.
Still, I have no problem recommending this for those who love British period dramas, as it absolutely succeeds in drawing the viewer into the story and providing a really unique look at the 1950s in a recovering England.
There are a few things about this set that I find odd and just hustled. The packaging reads “The Complete Series”, as a second season has been ordered, this is obviously not a complete series, the discs are correctly labeled “Season 1”. The packaging lists a dolby digital track. There is not one. All that said, if you haven’t seen Call the Midwife, but you enjoy Downton Abbey or other period pieces, check it out on PBS and decide for yourself if this is something you want to hold onto.
Before you buy, I wanted to also add a few resources. The online trailer:
As well as the fact that PBS has this series online and free to watch here for a limited time. http://video.pbs.org/video/2284744812/