Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Catch Up TV... Missed the TV Moment Everyone's Talking about? Alastair McKay Hails the Soft Feminism of Call the Midwife and Mary Beard's Intelligence in Civilisations

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Catch Up TV... Missed the TV Moment Everyone's Talking about? Alastair McKay Hails the Soft Feminism of Call the Midwife and Mary Beard's Intelligence in Civilisations

Article excerpt

POPLAR is a foreign country. The East End was never as prettily choreographed, nor as well mannered, as it seems in the nostalgic parables of Call the Midwife (BBC iPlayer). Yes, there are lumbar punctures and rashes that don't fade when pressed, and "a galloping attack of our old friend, scabies", and these times (1962, is it?) are anxious for everyone, but there isn't much that can't be solved with a little care and attention from the bicycling angels in capes.

Dramatically, Midwife is the soft feminist version of Dr Finlay's Casebook, a Sixties Sunday-night drama that soothed the nation's moral itch with the calamine lotion of paternalism, and remains the unattainable ideal of what everyone would like from their GP. In Midwife, almost everything is female, with the exception of Minty from EastEnders (Cliff Parisi), who dances around the place like sunshine on a dustbin lid.

True, there's a man trying hard to be a dad and protect his son from the latest threat to civilisation, a virus known as The Rolling Stones. "Aren't they a bit undesirable?" says the man, with commendable prescience. But at heart, the show is all about the women, one of whom suffers a medical emergency while another, a Jamaican newcomer, has to wrangle with prejudice.

Were the old days really better? Medically they weren't, obviously, but there's a tameness about this rendering of the past, a malleability that makes its travails more manageable. That oik from the remand centre, the boy who was bullied for getting his girl pregnant; the nearest he came to profanity was calling a woman an old bag. And the racism that greeted Jamaican immigrants? Salved with a healing chorus of Amazing Grace.

The old gits of the Scottish comedy Still Game (BBC iPlayer) approach the present in the opposite manner. Jack (Ford Kiernan) and Victor (Greg Hemphill) are delinquent pensioners caught with their comrades in an existential purgatory called The Clansman, a pub administered with a persistent lack of bonhomie by the grim barman, Boabby (Gavin Mitchell), who is Jean-Paul Sartre with a mullet. …

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