herald

Sunday 19 November 2017

I'd drop Midwife in a Heartbeat

call the midwife (BBC1, sun) birdsong (BBC1, sun) the voice of ireland (rte1, sun) winning streak (rte1, sat)

SERIES like Call the Midwife aren't so much written as baked to a pre-determined recipe. Two cups of nostalgia (sieved to remove any gritty bits), one cup of sticky sentimentality, half a cup of watered-down social conscience and two heaped tablespoonfuls of mild comedy.

Whisk until fluffy, stir in a handful of ripe character actors (Jenny Agutter, Pam Ferris, Judy Parfitt), place in a moderate oven for 60 minutes and hey presto -- you've got 10 million viewers.

The sweet cherry on the top of Call the Midwife is Jessica Raines as posh, pretty, newly-qualified midwife Jenny Lee, who arrives to work at a nursing convent in London's war-damaged East End in the 1950s.

Based on the memoirs of a real-life midwife, it's supposed to be set amid squalor and deprivation yet presents a view of post-war life so sanitised, soft-focus and rose-tinted that the bombed-out ruins seem picturesque and the colourful locals freshly scrubbed.

One of them, played by Roy Hudd, is an old Boer War soldier who ultimately loses his legs to gangrene but remains cheery and upbeat thanks to Jenny Lee's visits.

Another is a middle-aged man who puts his (much younger) pregnant wife's tetchiness down to this being their first child.

When the baby turns out to be black, does he rant, rave and rage the way you'd expect a man in 50s London to? You must be joking! Clutching an armful of maternity manuals, he declares it to be "the most beautiful baby in the world". A second series of this drivel had already been commissioned even before the first one reached last night's halfway point. They haven't gone away, you know, those Heartbeat fans.

The stately pace that I thought served the first part of Birdsong so well worked against it in the concluding instalment.

Flipping, as last week, between two time periods six years apart, it never really moved up a gear.

The big battle scenes felt underwhelming, and the crucial moment when Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) learns that Isabelle (Clemence Poesy) is dead and that he has a daughter lacked the promised emotional punch. That said, there were a lot of good things about it, not least the deeply affecting final scenes in the tunnel between Stephen and sapper Firebrace, played by the excellent Joseph Mawle. If an award is destined to come Birdsong's way, it will be be for him.

"If only they could SEE her!" wailed a relative of a contestant on The Voice of Ireland, thus entirely missing the programme's unique selling point. The "her" in question was a young girl who'd obviously spent a long time in front of a mirror perfecting her popstar image. She walked the walk, talked the talk, looked the look and danced the dance. Unfortunately, when the time came to sing the song, the voice she'd described as being "deep and husky" turned out to be shallow and reedy. No chair swivelled.

However you may feel about talent shows, The Voice of Ireland is doing exactly what it says on the tin -- and doing what it promised to do with the tin-eared.

I hadn't watched Winning Streak in quite a while and was faintly alarmed to discover it now runs for 65 minutes, which is about 35 minutes more than is necessary and 55 more than is bearable.

The infamous "five stiffs from the country" aren't as stiff as they used to be -- they can become quite animated during the pre-filmed inserts -- but they're nothing compared to the human dynamo that is Marty Whelan.

Capering about the studio floor, laughing insanely at every arthritically feeble story, Marty seems intent on never standing still lest his lack of purpose be noticed.



call the midwife HIIII birdsong HHIII the voice of ireland HHHII winning streak HIIII

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