Celebrity Q&A, Featured ArticleBy Paulette Cohn on September 20, 2012
Is the PBS show “Call the Midwife” based on a real-life story?
—Gladys Redmond, Amherst, Mass.
“Call the Midwife” is loosely based on the bestselling memoirs of the late Jennifer Worth, née Jennifer Lee, a former British nurse who wrote three books—”Call the Midwife,” “Shadows of the Workhouse” and “Farewell to the East End”—about her work as a midwife in the East End of London in the 1950s.
She is being played in the PBS series by Jessica Raine, who didn’t have the chance to meet the real-life midwife as Worth died at age 75 of cancer on May 31, 2011.
“The morning we started filming, our assistant director held a minute of silence for Jennifer Worth because she died about two or three weeks before we started shooting,” Raine recalls. “I was really pleased she did that, [because] it really brought home what we were doing. We were bringing to life this book of memoirs, and you certainly feel the responsibility.”
“Call the Midwife” begins when Lee, who had been raised well-to-do in the English countryside, takes a position as a midwife in the poorest section of London. She moves into the Nonnatus House, an order of nursing nuns, and begins her career tending to the needs of expectant mothers.
“I had been doing mostly theater work, a lot of fantastic theater in London, and I had done some filming but not much,” Raine continues. “So walking onto a set and going, ‘Okay, I’ve got to be the lead in this huge series,’ I felt a bit like Jenny Lee, walking into Nonnatus House going, ‘What am I going to do?’ So that was a similar feeling.”