New season of ‘Midwife’ starts; ‘Father’ deals with murder

Rick's Reviews

The cast of “Call the Midwife” includes (from left) Nurse Phyllis Crane (Linda Bassett), Nurse Trixie (Helen George) and Nurse Lucille Anderson (Leonie Elliott). (Photo courtesy of PBS)

Jenny Agutter didn’t think that the PBS series, “Call the Midwife,” would go beyond the first season when it launched in 2012. Her instincts were extremely off the mark as the 10th season of the series about a group of midwives living in East London in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s starts at 8 p.m. Oct. 3.

It wasn’t that the British actress who portrays Sister Julienne saw a lack of quality in the show created by Heidi Thomas.

“It was wonderful. It wasn’t that because it wasn’t wonderful that it wouldn’t go on. I just didn’t see the kind of reaction it would have,” Agutter says. “We had a huge audience that first year, and it automatically got picked up. It was fairly early on it got picked up, and it was lovely.”

And it has kept going and going. Agutter credits Thomas with that continued success as the show has found new elements to engage the audience each year. Those range from social issues to medical problems.

The 10th season opens in the year 1966 just at the point where the women’s rights movement has started to intensify.  Sister Julienne (Agutter) is determined to steer Nonnatus House out of its financial quandary while Dr. Turner (Stephen McGann) deals with an assortment of difficult cases including a former soldier involved in nuclear test explosions.

Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) is thrown into a crisis of faith and Sister Frances (Ella Bruccoleri) comes to the conclusion she needs to be a little less spiritual if she’s to connect with the local women.

Generally, Agutter has good instincts when it comes to projects that she cultivated through acting roles since she was 12. Her credits include “An American Werewolf in London,” “The Twilight Zone” and “MI-5.” One of her best known roles was in the 1976 futuristic science fiction film, “Logan’s Run” where she played Jessica.  

Agutter was a teenager at the time the 10th season of “Call the Midwife” is set. She knows her life in pursuit of acting roles was quite different than what her character is facing on the series.

“One of the things I first had to think about is Sister Julienne’s life. She’s been through the First World War and Second World War and she sees the National Health Service started up. She sees the changes in the community,” Agutter says. “It’s very, very different than a teenager.

“It is interesting that one is playing with time. I love the idea, always, of I’m playing in the future, which I have done playing in the past, and seeing how it affects it. I think one of the things that’s really interesting about ‘Call the Midwife’ is that when you’re looking at something, it always remains 50 whatever, six years behind us, and yet so many of the situations seem the same or so many of the social attitudes can seem the same.”

The new season of “Call the Midwife” debuts Oct. 3 on Valley PBS. New episodes will air weekly through Nov. 21.

“The Good Father: The Martin MacNeill Story,” 8 p.m. Oct. 2, Lifetime

Nancy Grace was very familiar with the story of Dr. Martin MacNeill long before she took on the duties of executive producer of the Lifetime movie “The Good Father: The Martin MacNeill Story.” She covered the actual murder case on which the film is based and became friends with some of the family members.

She has vivid memories of talking with MacNeill’s daughter. Alexis, the night of the verdict.

“She was telling me about how she had gotten married and her mother wasn’t there because her father murdered her mother and what that felt like  to me,” Grace says.t

The film looks at Dr. MacNeill (Tom Everett Scott) and the life he led with his former beauty queen wife, Michele (Charisma Carpenter) and their eight children.  Everything changed after Michele’s death.  A few short weeks after his wife’s suspicious death, Dr. MacNeill brought home a new live-in nanny who was actually his mistress.

Carpenter took on the role of Michele MacNeill with a deep respect for the responsibilities that come with basing a film on real events.

“I think any time you mix true crime with scripted television, you do have to walk an extra careful line,” Carpenter says. “It was super challenging to honor her memory and to be able to get across her love of family, to be able to get across the behaviors that she was experiencing and her confusion about his behavior, the pathological lying and the sociopathy behind it all.

“I feel like whenever you’re approaching a character, you have these insights that you bring to the table, but when it’s a real-life story, you have to take the insights that you understand from whatever the history is of the story.”

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