This year’s special gives us our first peek at Vanessa Redgrave, who until now has only featured in voiceover, playing the contemporary version of Jennifer Worth. What was that like for the cast?
Jenny Agutter (Sister Julienne): “I have huge admiration for what Vanessa does; I love the surprises she brings with her. You never know what she’s going to create. It’s lovely.”
Jessica Raine, who played the younger version of Vanessa Redgrave’s character, departed at the end of the last series. How has it been filming without her?
Helen George (Trixie): “It’s so weird and different without Jessica, even though we chat and hang out still. What is great though is that, because Vanessa’s here as the older Jenny, there is definitely a sense of the character still being around and watching over us. The show has always been an ensemble though, even though it’s seen through Jenny’s eyes, and it feels like we all have ownership over it.’
Some of the other characters have some big things to deal with in this episode, particularly Cynthia. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Bryony Hannah (Cynthia): “We’ve been talking about Cynthia’s decision for a long time behind the scenes, since the first series really, because it happens in real life in Jennifer Worth’s books. Cynthia is looking for a sign about what is the right thing to do and once she makes her decision she is very happy and you really see her growing into herself for the first time.”
Chummy (Miranda Hart) and Patsy (Emerald Fennell) are also set to help two young mothers-to-be who find themselves sent to an awful mother and baby home. What was that like to film?
Emerald Fennell (Patsy): “It is such a privilege to be part of something so moving and heartrending. However, Miranda and I do some jiving in the mother and baby home and it was so much fun. I am terrible at dancing, though, so it took me a really long time to get geared up for it!”
With the mother and baby home story and the guest appearance of Kacey Ainsworth as a woman released from a mental home this Christmas special definitely has some serious subject matter. Is there a message you wanted to get across?
Pam Ferris (Sister Evangelina): “The theme of this episode is how, even at Christmas, some people were excluded from society. But we see people starting to say, ‘Why should we put single mothers in a home and why should we let people who are mentally challenged be hidden away?'”
What are your plans for Christmas?
Jenny Agutter (Sister Julienne): “It’s down to the country for a quiet but rather odd Christmas because it’s in the Swedish tradition. We have it on the 24th and there is no turkey, it’s smorgasbord-type things like meatballs. My husband [Swedish hotelier Johan Tham] is good at doing it. The one dish I produce is the Janssons frestelse, which is layers of potatoes and herrings.”
Pam Ferris (Sister Evangelina): “We are having coulibiac which is a Russian dish of layered salmon in puff pastry. I’ll be watching the Call the Midwife special with my husband [actor Roger Frost]. He cries a lot though so it is industrial strength kitchen roll he requires not tissues!”
Laura Main (Shelagh Turner): “I like going home to Aberdeen if I am not working. It is just lovely to be with family and, because I live down in London, quite often Christmas is the one time you can get a bit of peace.”
Ben Caplan (PC Noakes): “For the first time in a while I’m at home this Christmas because I am doing a show in the West End [The Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon] and my wife has just had a baby so I will be with the new addition, but I don’t know if I will sleep!”
Cliff Parisi (Fred Buckle): “My wife is having a baby too. It’s due just after Christmas so there will be babies everywhere! I shall be feeding my wife mince pies and we’ll be at home watching Call the Midwife and eating Quality Street, it’s going to be fabulous.”
Victoria Yeates (Sister Winifred): “We’re having a Yotam Ottolenghi Christmas, so it’ll be nice and healthy. I’m from a big family and everyone’s making a different one of his recipes so I don’t know how long it’ll take to eat. I’ll have to go, ‘Stop, Call the Midwife is on!’ I’m so excited to be in my first Christmas special!”