Welcome back to another Call the Midwife recap. If they actually named episodes for the show, this one would be most definitely be entitled 'Votes for Women'. But before I get ahead of myself, you might want to peruse last week’s staffing changes, mini-baby boom and dose of social commentary here.
Election day is nearing and our favorite community organizer, Violet Buckle, announces that she’s been chosen to stand for a seat on the local council. This really comes as no surprise considering how public-spirited she’s been from day one. Though equally civic minded, her spouse is less than enthusiastic about his wife’s entry into politics, grumbling and pouting about every little thing Violet asks him to do.
Fortunately, this doesn’t deter Mrs. Buckle who begins her campaign in earnest. Her first stop is Nonnatus House where she puts forth her views on a lengthy list of issues. In the end what wins even the skeptical Nurse Crane over is Violet’s heartfelt vision for her beloved community which is…
“to make Poplar a place that feels like home to all her residents, old and new. That’s how we build a community that can thrive and expand and be rich in opportunity for all.”
The Aidoos are exactly the kind of family Mrs. Buckle has in mind, new not only to Poplar, but England as well. Recently arrived from the West African country of Ghana, Mr. Aidoo (Ekow Quartey) is a postman with ambitions for advancement and his wife Flora (Jessica Kennedy) is pregnant with their second child. Though upbeat and optimistic, the family isn’t in the best of health. Mrs. Aidoo is being monitored for a stubborn case of anemia, her son Matthew (Zion Kofi) suffers from growing pains and Mr. Aidoo is easily winded in a friendly game of football.
The delivery of her daughter brings on a considerable amount of blood loss and Flora is subsequently transferred to the maternity hospital for a transfusion. Trixie recalls some migrant women she treated in South Africa who also had anemia and large post-partum bleeds. They believed this illness to be a curse that ran in their families.
Dr. Turner goes into research mode and determines that what is affecting Flora is a blood disease called sickle cell anemia found almost exclusively in people of African descent. Troubled to learn that this disease is passed on to children when both parents are carriers, Mr. Aidoo finally admits he has been experiencing pains in his extremities since arriving in England. The family’s attention turns to testing Matthew to see if he too is afflicted.
Of course, the blood work confirms that the boy does have the disease. Meanwhile Mr. Aidoo’s condition worsens and he collapses in pain while on his postal route. Dr. Turner treats him at the family’s flat, advising Mr. Aidoo that he must find a job that is less physically taxing. Though highly educated, Joel knows a change in employment will be no easy feat due to the color of his skin. Dr. Turner says his family will have an even harder time if he doesn’t make changes because he won’t be around if he continues as he has been.
Things take a turn for the better for the Aidoos in the end. With a strong sense of family, hope for improved treatments and, most importantly, an understanding employer who offers Joel a position in the sorting office plus time off for medical appointments, they plan to stay in England and see their dreams through.
The compelling plight of Clarice Millgrove (heartbreakingly played by One Foot in the Grave’s Annette Crosbie) unfortunately went in quite another direction. When Nurse Anderson crosses paths with the frail but feisty woman, she finds a recluse who won’t answer the door. A neighbor girl named Maureen (Devon Pomeroy) who Miss Millgrove pays to deliver her groceries shows Lucille how to gain entry into the woman's flat.
Once inside we see a serious, unsanitary hoarding problem has arisen and the ulcer on Miss Millgrove’s leg is in dire need of treatment. While her patient grudgingly allows Lucille to tend to her wound, she reveals she was a teacher and, during the war, an ambulance driver at the Eastern front. She also concedes that getting to the outside lavatory is challenging and Lucille assures her something can be done about that.
Despite Sister Julienne’s caution about getting overly involved with her patient, Nurse Anderson resolves to help this proud woman get her house in order. She even enlists Sister Monica Joan to assist with the clean-up. Though they initially clash over the proper way to eat rhubarb, the two elderly women are soon chatting excitedly about classic literature.
Alas on her next visit, Lucille finds Clarice on the floor after a fall from the portable commode she provided. A strictly business social worker is dispatched who uncovers that Miss Millgrove has been hoarding more than tinned food and newspapers. We’ve seen the elderly living in squalor on Call the Midwife before, but we’ve never seen a case quite this severe. Apparently Clarice has been hoarding her excrement and stuffing it up the chimney!
After this discovery, there is no course of action other than to place Miss Millgrove in a care home. Lucille wants to be there for her patient when the ambulance arrives. Though she’s packed a small sack of prized possessions, at the last minute Clarice slams the door shut and locks it against those who would take her from her flat.
Back at Nonnatus House, the midwives are going through Miss Millgrove’s belongings trying to find a family link. She has a medal that Nurse Crane identifies as one given to suffragette hunger strikers who were fed by force. It now becomes clear why the lonely old woman “finds comfort in plenty”. Fred, who is working in the kitchen nearby, says he doesn’t see why women made such a big deal about getting the vote. He doesn’t even bother sometimes, particularly in local elections. The midwives try to impress on him how important his one vote might be. Trixie even brings up the communists for good measure.
Nurse Anderson is informed that an emergency order has been issued to remove Miss Millgrove from her home. Sister Julienne believes the action of the court is necessary in order for their patient to survive. When Lucille and Monica Joan arrive on the scene, Clarice is throwing cans and poo packets at the police. The nun, who would join the protest if her vows allowed it, cheers on Miss Millgrove from the sidelines saying “Hail, hail, dear sister” and “Viva the Revolution!” Fred, who is there for voluntary ambulance training, warns Monica Joan she might be arrested. To which she responds,
“Some things are worth standing up for. If your wife can understand that, why can’t you?”
As Lucille attempts to block the police from entering, Miss Millgrove quickly opens the door and pulls the nurse inside. Lucille tries to make Clarice see that the nursing home might be nice and that her current residence has become a prison. Miss Millgrove recounts her traumatic hunger strike experience and questions what will become of her since she knows nowhere else. Lucille tells her a woman of substance can make a life anywhere.
Dressed up in a suit with her medal on the lapel, Miss Millgrove walks with the assistance of Fred and Lucille to the ambulance. She asks Lucille if she can eat the food where they are taking her and Lucille answers knowingly that she doesn’t have to go hungry and promises to visit tomorrow.
Back at home Fred happens upon Violet practicing her concession speech. After what he has witnessed today, he finally understands why what his wife is doing is important. He apologizes for sniping rather than offering support and says he’s proud of her.
The next day Lucille goes to visit Miss Millgrove as promised and is saddened to discover the woman has died in her sleep. Later she learns that Clarice amended her will, leaving a volume of Robert Louis Stevenson for Sister Monica Joan and her suffragette medal to Lucille. Her delivery girl Maureen received a very generous bequest as well, a book with ten-pound notes spread throughout the pages!
On election day, all the ladies of Nonnatus House head out to the polling station with Lucille proudly displaying Clarice’s suffragette medal. Fred joins his wife at the polls as well. And though we don’t find out if Violet won her seat, rest assured, Mrs. Buckle will continue to serve her community regardless of the result.
Call the Midwife has always been committed to portraying the realities of women. This episode goes down as an especially powerful one for me. I loved the arc of this story from the sacrifices of the suffragettes to a woman breaking gender barriers by running for office. Please share your thoughts about this week’s installment in the comments.