As we have touched on several times in recent weeks, in this age known as The Downton Abbey Age, the BBC One series, Call the Midwife, exceeded all audience expectations and quietly became an audience hit during its first series last year. With the second series of Call the Midwife set to begin tonight on BBC One (31 March on PBS in the States), the overnight fascination with the series has sparked a renewed interest in the midwife profession. According to reports, in Britain overall, there has been a 17 per cent rise in students seeking to learn midwifery in the last year, according to UCAS. Middlesex University reported a 44 per cent increase in applications since 2011, while the Cardiff School of Nursing and Midwifery noted a 24 per cent rise this year.
For Miranda Hart, winner of several Best Comedy Actress awards who has spent most of her small screen career in comedy (Hyperspace, Not Going Out, Absolutely Fabulous, Vicar of Dibley, Lead Balloon), the path to London’s East End was somewhat unexpected. Her semi-autobiographical comedy series, Miranda was voted Best New British TV Comedy in 2011. Hart was described in the Financial Times as “the most original and farcically hilarious female clown since Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders“. Drama was probably not on the radar at this point in her career.
Jennifer Worth, who memoirs upon which Call the Midwife is based, died of cancer before the first series was completed. But, it was she who spotted Miranda Hart on television and called the producers, saying she’d seen someone who looked just like her friend Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne, aka Chummy, the shy and awkward midwife who worked alongside her in the East End.
When she was sent the script, Hart said she fell in love with the character instantly. When she was sent the script, Hart says she fell in love with the character instantly. “It portrays someone from an upper-class background who is apparently very privileged, but actually is damaged and scared and can’t find a place in the world. I really liked the idea of showing a vulnerable person from that class, and I think the audience felt the same about her, in terms of wanting it all to work out.”
Overall, Hart says that playing straight drama after a career of fronting comedy is easier, saying that ‘there’s no pressure to get a laugh from a live audience’. Pressure or no pressure, laughs or no laughs, Call the Midwife is all the better with Miranda Hart a part of Nonnatus House. It will be interesting to see where her journey leads next….