Season 5 Q&A with Stephen McGann
Give us a bit of background to this season. Are there any key themes?
In Series 5 the contrast between light and shade can be even starker. It’s a very special thing which Call the Midwife is able to do. It is amazing the way Heidi is able to find those moments that switch from lightness, gentle humor or even triviality, and then twist the knife.
People often question how long the series can go on, with the pill arriving on the scene soon - but the pill took a surprisingly long time to filter through to somewhere like Poplar. It’s not an overnight change. We have watched the NHS from the late 50s, gradually becoming a huge health machine with increased births in hospitals. Yet in the series there’s a feeling that certain important things haven’t changed. We’ve always followed real-time each year in the drama, so the changes come gradually.
We focus on women’s issues too. There are still parts of a woman’s anatomy and procedures in the life of a woman that, as a society, we find uncomfortable to talk about in the series. We use certain words for the anatomy that people might be surprised to hear, and it forces us to examine our discomfort and question whether it is valid.
In her own small way, Shelagh is the harbinger and vanguard for the woman’s world we now know, as she is a working mother and wife. The teamwork the Turners display as a family, which allows Shelagh to be a working mum, lay the foundations for a future where things are more enlightened. It didn't begin as a great blinding flash of knowledge - it began with women like her. What I enjoy about Shelagh in this series is that, even though she seems meek at times, she’s got a great quiet strength. When things get really hard for the family, she’s often the strongest one of all.
Have you started to recognize elements from the show as it moves into the sixties?
I already recognize elements from that time in the series. I recognize the NHS working the way it did in the Sixties. It’s my favorite decade. I was a young boy during the Sixties. We started Call the Midwife in a rigid post-war world - my father’s world. He was a man born before the Sixties. He was basically put into a suit as a teenager and wore the same kind of clothes for the rest of his life. The Sixties were different. People began to choose how to live their lives and weren’t condemned for it. The social changes, and much of what our world looks like today, all started then.
I was born in true Call the Midwife style! A midwife came out on a bike in the coldest winter for a century, and during a snowstorm. The midwife had apparently taken a sleeping pill just before she was called to duty. My mum said she was in a terrible mood when she arrived to deliver me!
What has the journey so far been like for the Turner family?
We started off as a widower and a son who had lost his mother. There was a real sadness at the heart of it. But life didn't stop. One thing I remember about those early days was that Timothy still had this wonderful bolshiness where he wanted to go out and be a boy like all the other boys on the street, but there was a cloud hanging over him from wanting a mother. Max was incredible. He’s had an amazing journey from a tender age and it’s been so impressive to watch.
This year we see the Turners taken out of their normal context. Something I love about the Turners is that they get on very well, but problems can beset them from outside. They are becoming better at showing love when the other has difficulties. They are getting better at being in love and being married.
What has it been like seeing Max/Timothy grow up on set?
It’s been such a privilege for us to watch. The audience also gets to watch the natural progression of a young son growing into that difficult teenage stage. Max is answering back now, but he’s also wise and funny. Sometimes we need to listen to him!
What is it like filming with Alice who plays Angela?
It’s very humbling when you’re working on a successful series where the real stars are children! No matter what your plans are as a self-important actor, they are second to the child actor’s needs, and I think that's very healthy. Alice is brilliant and adorable! When she reacts to the lines, she steals the scene.
What impact has Call the Midwife had that you’re most proud of?
I’m immensely proud of the fact that this show doesn’t just entertain but it helps inform and even, at times, educate. The show recently helped out a program that teaches good birthing practice in Bangladesh. It has also featured information about vaccination and the spread of certain diseases that has encouraged people to vaccinate their children. Dramas like Call the Midwife have the power to help people do more than just have a glass of wine and let their minds drift. I’m very proud of its continued success as a form of medical communication.
What makes Call the Midwife so globally successful?
Everyone can recognize themselves in it. It’s about love, life, passion and family. It’s about the very stuff of life, which everyone understands. It’s not a new world, it’s their world and it’s our world.