Call The Midwife’s reach goes far further than you might imagine. With 9.2 million viewers, 2016′s Christmas episode was the most-watched show of the day and its most recent series regularly pulled in over 10 million.
Jennifer Kirby – a relative newcomer to the show, having joined the cast earlier this year – was a fan of ‘Call The Midwife’ long before she stepped foot in Nonnatus House and credits its success to the fact “it touches so many people and it’s because it’s so heartfelt, at its core”.
“It’s so emotionally sensitive and also doesn’t shy away from the hard-hitting things as well, it has that perfect balance,” she tells HuffPost UK. “And also we have acting royalty, the older actresses are complete legends.
“There’s that added thing of classy, really well-made drama, brilliantly acted so I think that’s a reason too.”
One obvious difference between the programme and most other ongoing British dramas is its focus on women, and previous storylines have included FGM, the invention of the pill and the effects of thalidomide in the late 1950s.
“People want to see women on screen and they want to see women portrayed realistically on screen,” Jennifer says. “There’s definitely a sense of feeling privileged to be part of something that is still, unfortunately, so rare. It’s a drama about women, by women, it’s a really special thing.
“It’s so nice to be surrounded by women of all ages, being able to discuss the drama together and the roles, our storylines and our characters.
“It’s a very fulfilling working environment, I love it.”
Tomorrow’s (Monday 25 December) episode sees Jennifer’s character, Valerie Dyer, dealing with a particularly difficult birth and the actress admitted to shedding a few tears during her first read-through of the script.
“I had a little cry on the train,” she said. “I always feel that way though, whenever I get a a script. They’re always so amazing and they always manage to make me cry, no matter what.”
And when it comes to filming, the births are obviously tough and require a focus similar to that of a real-life midwife.
“You try to come at it from a scientific standpoint and a midwife would always be trying to think about the wellbeing of her patient, rather than how she’s feeling,” Jennifer explains. “Even when you feel sad that anybody might have to go through these things in real life, you come back to the job itself and trying to get that across accurately.
“You can’t sit there and weep because there’s a job to be done.”
The festive episode’s plot forms exactly the sort of heart-wrenching yet somehow hopeful story fans of the show know and love, something Jennifer quickly observes.
“You always come away from it with some kind of hope, even if it’s been a really bleak, very sad storyline,” she says. “It’s very accurate, it doesn’t shy away from the big issues but also it doesn’t come at it from doom and gloom either. I think it’s [the writing] amazingly skilful.”
A particularly touching scene in this episode sees Valerie sharing a tender moment with Sister Monica Joan and Jennifer, unsurprisingly, says this was as wonderful to film as it is to watch.
“I love Judy [Parfitt],” she says. “Last series we had a little scene together where you find out that she was the person who delivered [Valerie] so I think that has bound the characters together, even though they are quite different people.
“Every time I do a scene with Judy, I think she’s phenomenal. She is ‘Call The Midwife’ in a nutshell.
“She’s so funny and heartwarming and comedic, but at the same time, you feel so deeply for her because she’s quite a tragic character in her own way as well.”
The question is, will she be tuning in on Christmas Day?
“I will,” Jennifer laughs. “My parents definitely wouldn’t let me get away with not watching it. They’re raring to go.”
‘Call The Midwife’ airs on BBC1 at 7:40pm on Christmas Day.