After seven episodes of serious and hard-hitting material, Call The Midwife lets it all hang out in the Season 12 finale. This episode’s focus is on the long-anticipated wedding of Nurse Trixie Franklin and Sir Matthew Aylward (now he’s inherited the baronetcy). Despite Trixie’s careful planning, almost everything on the big day goes pear-shaped. There’s also news about the future of Nonnatus House, under threat of demolition for so long, and a possible staff change.
It’s something that doesn’t distract me from the fact that I’m marrying you for you. Not a title or a name or any of the things that go with it.
Nonnatus’s expectant mothers’ clinic is invaded by another wedding party, who enter dancing the conga. Lizzie Yu (Rebecca Hyde), expecting a baby very soon, and Arnold Yu (Eric Mak) have tied the knot just in time, stopping by Nonnatus with all their guests in tow for her appointment. However, when Nurse Shelagh makes a house call with antibiotics for Lizzie, the following day, she can’t help but notice the friction between the two sets of parents.
Mrs. Yu (Sarah Lam) is very traditional, as is Mrs. Butler (Charlotte Randle), and are at war over the new baby’s name. When Mrs. Yu offers tea, Mrs. Butler insists on English tea with milk, but Nurse Shelagh chooses jasmine. She's not too happy with her patient stuck in the culture war, or the prospect of bickering mums in the delivery room, and tells Lizzie if it gets to be too much, she is to come straight to the maternity home, and only Arnold will be allowed to stay with her.
Trixie’s brother, Geoffrey (Christopher Harper), the Fairy Godmother of his sister’s big day, has arrived to give her away. Taking a leaf from romcom tropes, he is the archetypal Best Gay Friend, an unfortunately clumsy bit of LGBTQ+ representation in a series that has, until now, handled same-sex relationships with kindness and respect. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act legalized homosexuality, and it turns out everyone loves Trixie's extremely camp brother too.
Geoffrey has stopped off at the couturier for Trixie’s dress, to be enhanced with the Aylward tiara. Now he’s about to tackle the big issue –– the hen night. It’s quite possible Trixie didn’t want a hen night, given her nursing schedule and her sobriety, but Geoffrey can’t find a health farm with a vacancy, so he decides the hen night must come to Nonnatus, and so it does.
Trixie is thrilled when Matthew arrives, but instead of a tiara, he’s bringing bad news. His mother sold it –– apparently, their finances weren’t as solid as we thought –– and Trixie is distraught. The tiara represents "something old, something borrowed, and something blue" to go with her (new) wedding dress. Matthew promises he’ll try to buy the tiara back, slinking off to the garden, where he meets Cyril, who gives him a calming cup of tea and male solidarity.
Female solidarity is also in force. When they find out about the plight of the tiara, Shelagh and Phyllis put their sewing skills to use. Using the leftover fabric that came with the wedding dress, they make a hat, and Trixie is delighted. Miss Higgins offers her a dainty handkerchief as the something–borrowed item, and best of all, they’ve found scraps of blue fabric from the Nonnatus House habits and a midwife’s uniform, which will be sewn inside the wedding dress.
When Matthew does show up with the tiara, it’s a bit of an anti-climax. He was able to buy it back, but it was Trixie who romanticized the wearing of the family heirloom, and now they both agree it is an old-fashioned clunker. Like Trixie herself, the new hat is elegant and modern, and she isn't marrying Matthew for his riches or title anyway.
Trixie visits one final client before her wedding, Estelle Hopkiss (Hatty Preston), a chimney sweep’s wife. Naturally, she tries to persuade Trixie to hire him for the wedding for good luck, but Trixie turns her down. It’s Nurse Phyllis who delivers the baby, and proud father, Tony Hopkiss (Stephen Leask), memorably compares the crowning head to a turnip covered in jam.
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Sister Monica Joan recovered from hepatitis and has sprung back to mischief, raising a ruckus over not being consulted about her reading at the wedding, which is the famous “Faith, hope, and charity” passage from I Corinthians, Chapter 13. Sister Monica Joan complains to Sister Julienne, who finally becomes exasperated when she says too many midwives have been lost to marriage. Sister Julienne reminds her it is marriage –– or the lack of it –– that keeps them in business.
Sister Julienne has another fraught meeting, this time with a job-hunting Nurse Nancy. Sister Julienne is offended Nancy hadn’t mentioned it. Nancy is surprised but explains it’s in the country and comes with a small house, meaning that Colette can live with her, a longed-for goal. Also, Nancy is afraid that Nonnatus House will fall down or be demolished –– just recently, for instance, Cyril came to perform structural integrity tests on the building.
Nurse Phyllis is particularly hurt that Nancy, who she is close with, didn’t confide in her and cries in Sister Julienne’s office, afraid of being left behind. Sister Julienne reveals her skills will be needed to train the next generation of midwives when Nonnatus House enters a new chapter in its service, now as a midwifery training center. Matthew Aylward bought the building outright, and the clearance program threatening demolition has been delayed. Nonnatus is safer than ever.
Meanwhile, there’s panic at the Buckles as poor Colette keeps getting nosebleeds, and Fred and Reggie show up with morning-dress outfits that are too small. That gets fixed just in time for Sister Monica Joan to decide she isn’t well enough to go, and Sister Veronica stays with her at Nonnatus House. Trixie takes a fond farewell to the world she’s lived and worked for so long. As the car pulls away, Fred Buckle’s impromptu fireworks display lights up the sky.
Nothing can go wrong now. Or can it? First, the flowers are delivered to Nonnatus, and Miss Higgins decides to deliver the bouquets for the bridal party directly to the hotel. Then the wedding cake arrives, and Sister Veronica sends the delivery van to the church only to discover Sister Monica Joan has disappeared. At the hotel where the wedding party is staying and where the reception will be held, the fire alarm goes off. (Well, what did you expect?)
The Turner family, Shelagh, Patrick, and eldest son Tim, set off a little late for the wedding. Shelagh insists that Patrick pull over so he can remove his coat to avoid creasing it, and as he does so, a car passes, both passengers smiling and waving. Lizzie and Arnold Yu have taken the advice to go to the maternity home early, with much giggling and some overdone labor contortions by Lizzie, only for the car to crash.
Patrick sends Tim to call the Flying Squad and determines Lizzie is dead. He has no choice but to perform an emergency C-section to save the baby, a fast and brutal procedure producing a healthy baby girl. Tim comforts Arnold, who doesn’t know Lizzie is dead, as they are taken to the hospital. The Turners look at each other as Tim reminds his father being able to carry on is both the terror and privilege of their profession.
As they’re setting off, the radio announces the hotel has been engulfed in flames. They arrive at the church late along with Sister Monica Joan in a cab. The service has started, and Sister Monica Joan walks in at the part of the service where he calls for any just cause or impediment preventing the marriage. She knows of none, she says grandly, distracting from those delivering the latest bad news to Geoffrey whose expression becomes more rigid by the minute.
Sister Monica Joan announces at the lectern that she has a change of program and reads Robert Louis Stevenson’s Wedding Prayer, which welcomes friends and family to the occasion, and adds "And for those we love and may look upon no longer, for those whose path will not be ours, for those we teach and from whom we learn, and for those who hold us in their hearts and call us home."
With the hotel in ruins but no lives lost, Trixie and Matthew do what they should have planned from the beginning –– hold a party at Nonnatus House for the entire neighborhood. A vast crowd takes over the street outside Nonnatus with lights, food, music, and drink. Chimney sweep Tony Hopkiss even greets Trixie in full regalia to wish her luck.
Briefly, we see the Yu and Butler families mourning with the newest member of the family. The baby has been named Lizzie, suggesting that the tragedy has brought the families together, but we wish it hadn’t been necessary.
With a strange combination of the over-dramatic (the car crash, coming in far too late) and the trivial (the miraculously expanding men’s suits), this finale is too uneven to work. This series is strong enough that it doesn’t need to revert to overused rom-com cliches or stage significant catastrophes. The heart of the real drama of Call the Midwife is in the everyday struggles of women and families in the Poplar of half a century ago.