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Why that Call the Midwife Sister Monica Joan moment was more important than you realised

Normally it’s a heart wrenching, tearjerker that carries the greatest impact but their latest episode proves that the show can carry some serious weight even if all eyes remain dry.

It isn’t because this particular storyline didn’t resonate emotionally – more that it stirred up feelings of anger and defiance instead of compassion and empathy, the kind of defiance that makes you want to make a stand. And that’s exactly what Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) does in defence of Nurse Crane (Linda Bassett).

In the latest episode nurse Crane, alongside Dr Turner (Stephen McGann) and his wife Sheila (Laura Main), are learning about a cutting-edge innovation in their field of medicine, the ventouse.

It’s implied by leading doctor Mr Walsh that Nurse Crane is struggling and what’s worse, that the reason she’s having problems adjusting is because she’s of the ‘old school.’ Code for a dinosaur in the field.

BBC

Nurse Crane is quick to inform him (with respect) that she’s seen plenty of innovations in her 44 years in professional practice, and not only that, but she’s embraced them all with interest, caution and questions.

That sounds like a nurse anyone would be proud to have by their side but instead of feeling reassured by this knowledge, Walsh is slighted.

His bruised ego causes him to act irrationally (though one would never dream of accusing a man of being emotional – that would be ridiculous). It results in an investigation into Nurse Crane’s professional ability.

It is noted that she has worked well past her retirement age and for her dedication she is summoned to a meeting with the board to prove that she is still fit to work.

This witch hunt is not provoked by any carelessness or malpractice on her part. In fact, it is no accident that in this episode in particular she performs her duties exceptionally well in the face of disrespect and implied ageism.

BBC / Neal Street Productions

Her pregnant patient takes every opportunity to insult her, which begins with her expressing a preference for the ‘pretty blonde nurse’.

Later, when Nurse Crane disagrees with her patient’s ‘new age’ way of thinking she makes a point of likening nurse Crane to her nan, making sure she knows this is not a compliment.

Despite this, Nurse Crane is the model of professionalism, in stark contrast to the enquiry she is made to face, which only proves to highlight just how ridiculous the accusations against her are.

Nevertheless she is hauled in for questioning and there she must defend herself to a board made up entirely of senior men, including Dr Walsh.

While they are unable to find fault in her competence, they attempt to criticise her reluctance to upskill through courses.

Nurse Crane attempts to explain that they are time-poor at Nonnatus, but it doesn’t wash with the board and she can sense she is losing them.

BBC / Neal Street Productions

Thank goodness for Sister Monica Joan, who steps in to defend her against the blatant ageism. Sister Monica Joan is the perfect choice of representative, though initially even Nurse Crane doesn’t think so as she instructs the Sister to wait outside.

Too often Sister Monica Joan is patronised and spoken down to as a relic – someone who should be respected and handled carefully but who doesn’t quite fit in with the times.

Her tendency to sometimes get confused has those around her underestimate her constantly and she too has to battle against ageism in this episode.

However Sister Monica Joan is a force and wilfully dismisses the other’s cautions not to help with the quarantined gastroenteritis outbreak, stating:

“My age is more to my advantage than my detriment,” she reprimands them, adding, “I have skills that I have not forgotten. I may forget much, but not that.”

BBC / Neal Street Productions

This she proves with her approach to care. Her vigilance is the reason a baby was able to receive successful life-saving treatment. This same forcefulness resurfaces during nurse Crane’s time of need.

She begins her speech to the board with the utmost Sister-Monica sass, saying:

“You presume me to be in my dotage. I beg to inform you I am not merely ancient but wise.”

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