'Call the Midwife' Recap: Season 9, Episode 5

Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) leads the way to the cinema       Credit: Courtesy of BBC / Neal Street Productions

I can only speak for myself, but I found this week’s episode of Call the Midwife to be both gleeful and touching. Folks in Poplar are certainly aquiver about the arrival of the nun-centric The Sound of Music! Meanwhile, our actual Nonnatus Sisters are front and center in the plotlines this time around. Frances and Hilda strive to provide services and reassurance while Sister Julienne must examine the accusation that she is out of touch with the population she has vowed to serve.

The Calthorpes and Sister Frances

Sister Frances is visiting Albert Calthorpe (Jay Simpson) who has just come home from the hospital. He is diabetic and has only one lung so her new patient is very susceptible to chest infections. But it turns out Albert’s devoted wife Grace (Samantha Spiro) is the one Frances really needs to worry about. The woman who dotes on her husband one minute is short with the cheerful but timid nun the next.

What Frances doesn’t know is that Mrs. Calthorpe has way too much on her proverbial plate. Besides caring for her recovering spouse, Grace drops in on her elderly, and apparently, senile mother daily to bring her food, clean her flat and attend to her toilet accidents.

Add to Grace’s to-do list her own grown (and spoiled) daughter Ingrid. She’s just left the hospital after giving birth to her second child and has selfishly assigned her poor mum the strenuous job of looking after her and her whole brood. It makes me tired just thinking about it…

Sister Frances seeks advice from her colleagues on how to handle the testy Mrs. Calthorpe. Unfortunately, they read the situation wrong and suggest she give Grace yet another task - giving Albert his insulin injections.

Meanwhile Mrs. Calthorpe herself has been unwell. She’s understandably exhausted plus she’s been bleeding heavily, a result of what she assumes is the approach of menopause. When she’s finally able to get in for a proper examination with Dr. Turner, he prescribes iron tablets for anemia and refers her to St. Cuthbert’s for the fibroid growths that are causing her heavy bleeding. She may need a hysterectomy that would put her up in the hospital for two weeks. Patrick’s an excellent physician, but he often doesn’t think about the pressing responsibilities of his patients.

Overwhelmed by all that is expected of her including tending to her infant grandchild in the middle of the night, Grace reaches a desperate point indeed. As she turns on the gas to light the oven, the possibility of ending her intolerable situation dawns on her. Just then Sister Julienne arrives to check on Ingrid’s baby. She notices the gas smell right away and that Grace is looking out of sorts.

When Julienne attempts to sympathize with how hard life has gotten for Mrs. Calthorpe, the overwrought woman snaps at her. Grace questions how the Sister could know what it’s like for a real middle-aged woman who is invisible to everyone, not privileged and sheltered like a nun. She leaves for the market, but upon returning home, exhaustion and her anemia finally take their toll and Grace collapses to the floor.

Sister Frances berates herself for focusing on why Mrs. Calthorpe didn’t like her rather than the signs of her condition. Sister Julienne said they all thought it was pride and self-sufficiency behind Grace’s behavior and contends that it’s important admit when we get things wrong.

At St. Cuthbert’s, Grace finally gets the much-needed rest she requires and a visit from her beloved husband accompanied by Sister Frances. When she insists that she can’t stay in the hospital all week, Mrs. Calthorpe is finally given much-needed practical assistance in the form of a more assertive Sister Frances. The nun has arranged day care and laundry service for Grace’s mother, she is training Albert to give himself injections and she basically tells Ingrid that  it’s time to grow up and take care of her own family. You go, Frances!

Later we see a relaxed Albert and Grace sitting together on the porch with their ice creams, content and thankful to have one another. What a lovely couple!

Ronald Mallen and Sister Hilda

Ronald (Karl Davies) and Aileen Mallen (Carla Langley) show off their baby to Sister Hilda (Fenella Woolgar) and Nurse Crane (Linda Bassett)    Credit: Courtesy of BBC / Neal Street Productions

Now this is the story that brought me to tears more than once. It’s a rare childbirth storyline that focuses on the emotions of the father and I found it very moving.

At the Mothercraft class for fathers, most of the men aren’t taking it seriously. Ronald Mallen (Karl Davies) is the exception and is laughed at when he says he’s going to be with his wife during childbirth.

Later Sister Hilda runs into Ronald and his wife Aileen (Carla Langley) outside the library. He’s got an armful of childcare books including Dr. Spock. Sister Hilda clearly has a soft spot in her heart for this gentle man and tries to reassure him that his wish to be at the birth is a fine thing. But even his own wife teases him a bit saying if he had his way, Ronald would be the one having the baby.

That night in the pouring rain, Ronald drives a laboring Aileen to the maternity hospital. As Nurse Crane greets them and prepares to take her patient back, Ronald insists on being with his wife the whole time. A staunch opponent of fathers participating in the childbirth experience, Phyllis considers him an infection risk and sends him to the waiting area.

Not to be deterred, Ronald shows up in the delivery room “gowned up” albeit  backwards. Crane clarifies that Aileen is her priority but if he’s staying, he must be useful. As Ronald brings his wife a glass of water, he is close to tears so Phyllis takes pity on him, ties him up properly and says they’ll work together. Aileen delivers a beautiful baby boy and the proud papa is opening crying now.

Over the next few days, the Mallens’s baby, Stephen, develops a birthmark on his temple. The spot grows which puts Ronald in quite a panic. Dr. Turner assures the new parents that Stephen’s strawberry mark is superficial and will probably disappear in a few years. Still not convinced that all is well, Patrick reminds the nervous father of what Dr. Spock is famous for saying,

“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”

Ronald’s anxiety continues so when Sister Hilda drops by for a visit and mentions the birthmark, he leaves the maternity home in a huff. The nun finds Mr. Mallen down by the river and apologizes for her insensitivity.  The young man opens up, telling her about his father, a kind man, who sadly died when Ronald was five during an air raid. His mom remarried, but his stepfather turned out to be a drunk who badly mistreated the family. Ronald hopes to leave his mark as a good man like his real dad did. Sister Hilda adamantly assures him that he already has by bringing a child who is loved into the world. She leaves him with a quote from Victor Hugo,

“What makes night within us may leave stars.”

The Sound of Music and Sister Julienne’s Day Out

And finally we get to the part about The Sound of Music which holds fond memories for me in several stages of my life.

The film is causing quite a buzz in Poplar and Sister Monica Joan is the most giddy of them all. She repeatedly tries to win free tickets in Violet Buckle’s fundraising raffle but to no avail.

*In the end May and Angela Turner win The Sound of Music drawing.  Big brother Tim wisely guides his sisters to give the tickets to their parents who are in dire need of a night out. Patrick and Shelagh love the movie and why wouldn’t they? It’s their story without the whistle and the evil fiancée. Patrick recalls a particularly rough when he heard Shelagh singing at compline and sweetly suggests he should get her some edelweiss. (Does anyone know what the flowers were that he found as a substitution?)

When Sister Monica Joan tries to convince Sister Julienne to sanction a Nonnatus House outing to the cinema, she deems the film both frivolous and inappropriate for religious sisters. Overreact much?

To be fair, Sister Julienne has been facing some harsh criticism lately. First the grieving granddaughter of one of the Sisters’ longtime patients lashes out saying women like her grandmother should be revered. Unlike nuns who don’t know the meaning of hard work. Then there was Grace’s Calthorpe’s accusation that, as a nun, Julienne could never understand what the average woman in Poplar has to put up with.

These jarring sentiments hit their mark and Julienne embarks on an outing to see how she is treated without the protection of her habit. Venturing out in an outfit of donated clothes, she walks the streets of Poplar and is both ignored and leered at. She crosses paths with Sister Monica Joan who recognizes her sister, but says nothing.

Eventually, Julienne ends up outside the cinema and decides to take in a matinee of The Sound of Music complete with ice cream treat. I suppose she can claim this activity as a prescreening for appropriate content?

After her day out and thanks to Sister Monica Joan’s discrete handling of her unexplained absence, Julienne sees the outing to the cinema in a different light.  The whole Nonnatus House staff set out with an elated Monica Joan leading the pack.

So before we say "So Long, Farewell" for this week, let’s talk about your assessment of this episode. Did you enjoy the nun-focused stories? Did you want Grace Calthorpe to scream in her frustration to be seen or take sweet Ronald Mallen by the shoulders and tell him to his face he’s a good man? How adorable were the Turners on their date? Your opinions are sought in the comments section!