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TV: Call The Midwife - Jenny Agutter and Pam Ferris' sister act

By Weekend  |  Posted: December 23, 2013

By Weekend

  • Call The Midwife - Jenny Agutter and Pam Ferris

  • Call The Midwife - Judy Parfitt as Sister Monica Joan and Pam Ferris as Sister Evangelina

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Most actresses are only too happy to spend hours in make-up before filming, but Call The Midwife stars Pam Ferris and Jenny Agutter are proud to show off their laughter lines. The actresses tell Sophie Herdman about their less than traditional Christmases and the trouble with wimples.

As they take a seat side-by-side on the sofa, Pam Ferris and Jenny Agutter could not look more different to the nuns they play in the popular Fifties-set drama, Call The Midwife.

For starters, they're wearing make-up, which is a strict no-no for their screen alter egos, Sister Evangelina and Sister Julienne.

The actresses admit that they enjoy being barefaced during filming.

"Oh, it's lovely," says Ferris.

Agutter agrees. "It takes away from having to look in the mirror because you don't really want to," she adds, laughing.

Not that she's disappointed by what she sees on screen.

"I'm proud of every line on my face," says the 60-year-old star, to which Ferris, 65, adds: "Exactly - I've earned all of those!"

Instead of a nun's robes, today Agutter's opted for a smart, red skirt suit and Ferris a long dark dress - and much to their delight, they are free of their wimples.

"Urgh, I have a hate-hate relationship with my wimple, me no love," says Ferris.

"It puts you in a very separate world," notes Agutter, who in the Sixties became a child star in The Railway Children TV series. She's worked steadily since, with roles in shows like Spooks and The Invisibles.

"Sometimes you can't actually hear what people are saying, and after a while you give up saying, 'What?', and just nod and smile."

Ferris laughs. "This is the theory," she notes. "Nuns can't solve your problems but they can certainly pretend to listen!"

Wimples are at least warm, which is beneficial when filming in winter. Unfortunately, the Call The Midwife Christmas Special was shot during the June heatwave.

"The thing to remember all the time is cold, cold, cold," says Agutter. "When one's cold and pretending to be hot, that's difficult, but when it's hot you forget that you've got to be tightened up - physically, you've got to see that."

The pair have just watched the Christmas Special for the first time. It will be screened on Christmas Day, with series three following in the New Year.

It's the second time the show has done a seasonal special, and it's not a calm Christmas for the Nonnatus House team, after an unexploded bomb, a relic from the Second World War, is discovered in Poplar.

"I tell you what I thought with this storyline," says Ferris. "How naive it is to think the war ended in 1945."

But it's not all explosives. There are, of course, many births at the nursing convent, as well as an emotional storyline involving Dr Turner's son, Timothy, as the doctor prepares to marry Shelagh - formerly known as Sister Bernadette.

Ferris, who's also enjoyed a long career with highlights including Rosemary & Thyme, The Darling Buds Of May and Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, admits she cried as she watched the special - not what you expect to hear from the actress who played the formidable Trunchbull in Matilda.

"It's embarrassing if you're in the damn thing!" she says.

Her husband is no better. "I'll watch it with him on Christmas Day and I'll have the tissues ready - he's a bit of a weeper."

Ferris is having a very untraditional Yuletide this year.

"I try to steer clear of Christmas rituals," she says, admitting that their Christmas dinner will be steak and kidney pie.

Agutter will also be throwing British festive traditions out of the window - her husband is Swedish, and as a result they celebrate on Christmas Eve.

"It's just as well because my son was born on the 25th," she points out.

They'll be eating goose, though - on her son's request - and going for a walk in the countryside.

It will be a very different affair for their characters in Call The Midwife, where tradition and frugality rules.

"Sister Evangelina takes her vows of poverty very seriously," Ferris notes. "The three knots on her belt represent chavity - oh, I've made up a new word there!" she blurts, bursting into a fit of giggles with her co-star.

"Sorry - poverty, chastity and obedience. That's the commitment she makes, and she makes it in spades, they all do."

Is it the spiritual element, then, that makes Call The Midwife so perfect for Christmas Day viewing?

"I can't answer that because I'm not a believer," admits Ferris. "I can say there's something rich about people who've made such a strong commitment to helping others - I find it very moving."

Agutter agrees: "It's their dedication that's extraordinary."

Of course, birth is a big element on the show - and as Ferris points out, that is the message of Christmas.

"Whether you're religious or not, it is rebirth, out of the darkness of winter, finding new life. That's why it is perfect for Christmas."

Despite delivering many fake babies on set, the pair do not think they'd be much good at it in real life.

"I don't think I'd be quite as calm as Sister Julienne," admits Agutter.

"I asked a midwife [about it] and she said you have to be attending on 40 births before you can do it by yourself - and I've not done 40 yet."

Not that any of this stops members of the public discussing impending births with them...

"I always offer to help," says Ferris, smiling playfully. "As long as it's a plastic baby, I'm fully licensed."

EXTRA TIME - MEET THE MIDWIFES

:: Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) - From a privileged background, arriving in London's East End was a bit of a culture shock at first. Her turbulent love life's been at the centre of her storylines, including falling in love with a married man, but her relationship with Alec is now blossoming.

:: Chummy Noakes (Miranda Hart) - Clumsy yet loveable Chummy struggled with self-confidence but now she's married to Police Constable Peter Noakes and the pair recently had a baby, so things are looking up.

:: Trixie Franklin (Helen George) - Glamorous Trixie loves to have a good time, but she's also very dedicated to her job, and while she can come across as no-nonsense, she cares deeply for her patients.

:: Cynthia Miller (Bryony Hannah) - The quieter member of the group, Cynthia's the most sensitive. She suffered a crisis of confidence when a child she delivered died and for a while she was blamed for making a mistake that cost the baby's life.

:: Shelagh, previously Sister Bernadette (Laura Main) - The youngest of the nuns, Sister Bernadette was initially unhappy and questioning life as a nun, and fell in love with the local doctor. After a bout of tuberculosis, she left the convent, returned to the name Shelagh and became engaged to Dr Turner.

:: Call The Midwife Christmas Special airs on BBC One on Wednesday, December 25

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