Jenny Agutter interview: ‘Call the Midwife’ star on what’s ahead for Sister Julienne

The thirteenth season of Call the Midwife welcomes back Sister Julienne for more drama!

Following last month’s Christmas special, the BBC’s hit period drama about a group of nurse midwives in the East End of London is back with eight new episodes.

We return to Poplar in 1969, with storylines set to explore issues surrounding Cerebral Palsy, Congenital Hip Dysplasia, Tetanus, Porphyria and TB, as poor housing continues to blight areas of Poplar presenting complex social and health challenges to the Nonnatus team.

Brand new Call the Midwife is airing in the UK at 8pm on Sunday nights on BBC One and streaming on BBC iPlayer.

Season 13 will premiere in the US this spring on PBS Masterpiece.

Here, original cast member Jenny Agutter chats about returning as Sister Julienne, the show’s two new midwives, working with comedian Rosie Jones, and her own memories of 1969:


What is in store for Sister Julienne this season?

“The year brings with it lots of social problems and lots of medical breakthroughs and changes. I got to work with the wonderful Rosie Jones in the first episode – she’s having a child and I get involved with that.

“But I also have to deal with a huge amount of my own guilt at circumstances that have happened in the past. And that’s always interesting.

“I love it when one gets a little bit of history, because it brings back the whole sense of the war years and what was happening, what one was having to deal with, and just where responsibility lies with somebody when they’re under pressure, all of those things.

“These things can come back to haunt you later. And she’s haunted by something. And so that’s really interesting to deal with.

“It was absolutely lovely to work with Rosie Jones, who is delightful and funny and a revelation always. It’s really interesting what she brings to the character.

“I think people will understand so much more about the condition that she has – cerebral palsy – which is very similar to the character that she’s playing in terms of how it occurred.”


Can you tell us about the new midwives at work?

“The other really exciting thing for Sister Julienne, and it’s something that she sort of instigated, is the bringing in of the new midwives for training. And that brings with it a huge new energy because we’ve got all this youthful energy around us and people who are developing and training.

“When you bring in new characters you bring in new experiences and I like the way that brings you up to date too. Sister Julienne tries to stay with the times but she’s a nun so in many ways her world is closed even if she does step outside sometimes.

“She has her own history of war and that brings a different view of the world to the world she finds herself in.

“So, to be surrounded by people in this time of change and fighting for nurses, for better pay, it is interesting for her. And what is interesting for me is we are going through it all over again – you see things repeated and repeated.”


What was it like going back to 1969 for you?

“It was an interesting year because you are coming out of the Sixties. And the Sixties in themselves were a time of huge social development, medical breakthroughs, artistic expansion and of course one had the whole space race going on.

“And ‘69 we have the moon landing, which of course is as exciting for Nonnatus House as it was for everybody that watched it, including myself as a teenager, which I remember very well. For Sister Julienne it is extraordinary because she’s come from a world with the First World War and the Second World War and now you have this completely different technology.

“You couldn’t imagine something like that happening. And suddenly it’s a whole new world. I was 16 at the time and very excited about it. But it was also a time of the Vietnam war, The Beatles.

“I was just young enough to be terrified that something awful would happen to the astronauts. 1969 was a big year for me as we had been living in Cyprus for a decade and then we went on a family holiday to the Isle of Wight, and we were staying in a hotel.

“And I remember vividly watching the moon landings on a television there, and I hid behind the sofa in case something terrible happened to the astronauts as they came out.

“My brother just teased me the entire time. He said, ‘It’s not made of cheese. You know, there’s nothing going to pop up. There’s no alien up there.’

“But it wasn’t that, I think it was just the sense of disaster, the imminent disaster. But it was an extraordinary moment in history.”


Call the Midwife is available on DVD on Amazon.