Many of you might ask why I am recapping a show that the BBC axed after only one season. Others might wonder where I am at and if maybe I’m going to get back to work on other recaps soon. My answers would be because when my head talks I type, and yes, I promise. I really meant to take June off, but then PBS decided to air what I lovingly refer to as my “British Firefly,” so here I am with a short one. Just because it called to me.
If you aren’t watching TCF, please do. It is poignant, intimate, and lovely. The story feels less like you are observing it on a flat screen and more like an oral history. I love a good epic, but I also love the quiet series, the ones that tug at your heart in the gentlest, most indelible way. TCF is that for me. Let me hit you up with an analogy.
Downton Abbey : Call The Midwife :: Poldark : The Crimson Field.
Maybe you just scrolled past that. Who knows.
In any case, roll with us for six eps and then we can all cry and drink together.
TCF deals with a hospital encampment near the French border during WW1. Our main POV character, Katherine (Kitty) Trevelyan is on a boat with fellow VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment) uptight Rosalie and bubbly Flora, neither of which observe her gazing mournfully into the water and chucking a wedding band into it.
That kind of sagacity really makes you cross your fingers for those wounded soldiers. Still, you get a good sense from the scene that Kitty has something to hide, and that she may not have volunteered solely from a sense of duty.
Back at Hospital 25A, the wounded are being tended to by Matron Grace Carter, who seems a calm, capable sort. She asks the chaplain to comfort one she thinks won’t outlive the day, a Private Malloy. She also asks another nurse, Sister Margaret, to look after him, but Margaret objects to the reasons Malloy joined, and is reluctant to assign anyone, pleading shorthandedness. When Matron points out there is help coming, she then objects to the help because Sister Margaret is just a pain who is obviously going to be a problem.
It turns out Matron Carter is new in her position, and Margaret thought she would get the job instead of her younger protege. When Matron brings it up, however, she claims to be fine with it, an obvious lie.
We also meet Lt. Col. Roland Brett, the gentle-yet-firm head of the hospital. Matron brings a soldier named Prentiss to his office where Brett plays him classical music, and the man cries cathartically, obviously racked by what is now knows as PTSD. Brett tells the Matron that he will put him on “the list”, which is to say send him home from active duty.
In the meantime, the VADs have arrived, and with them, one of my favorite meet-cutes in all of film. SO much is said here, and at the same time, nothing at all. The VADs arrive at the hospital and are met by Captain Thomas Gillan, who is eager to see if his typewriter is on the same transport. When he sees the volunteers, he offers up his hand to help each woman off in turn… until Kitty. Welcome to the glowing blue coal that is Kitmas (When you name your own ship, no one ships harder. Captain, indeed.)
This is also coincidentally when I fall in love with Kitty, because I LOVE a good hater. It’s not only that Kitty doesn’t like Thomas-she doesn’t like anything. Unlike Flora and Rosalie, she is neither gratuitously solicitous, particularly patriotic, or eager for friendship. She stands up to the tyranny of the Rules of Conduct and Deportment, and slices an uppity Rosalie with the rapier of pop psychology. She is the Heather to my Heather, you guys. Kitty FTW.
My single bone of contention with my VAD soul sister is that she seems to be put off by soulful blue eyes. I’m sure that there’s a reason, and I am also sure that I don’t care what it is. I SHIP IT.
In the meantime, things clip along. Flora gets sent to contract a bloodborne disease boil and roll bandages and finds dismembered toes, Kitty helps a man smoke instead of making beds, Sister Margaret uncovers that it was Brett who made the call to hold her back in her current position and Brett himself gets a visit from his superior, Col. Purbright, who is there to make sure anyone who can stand upright and shoot goes back out to the front lines.
I immediately wish for he and Sister Margaret to fall violently in love and run away together. And then fall in a swamp.
Back to Tom, who has nothing but a typewriter to give him warmth and comfort and that’s not why we’re fighting this war, dammit. With me on this is Tom’s friend and fellow surgeon Captain Miles Hesketh-Thorne, the B.J. to his Hawkeye. Miles wants to know if any of the new VADs are cute, but Tom says he didn’t notice.
Both men, as well as Col. Brett and Matron are called in to a meeting with Purbright, who complains about the various ways soldiers are mimicking injury to avoid the front lines. Purbright makes the call to have Prentiss rejoin his regiment, despite claims that the soldier is not fit for duty. Brett later gives Sister Margaret another pass for the man in defiance of orders, and tells her to find Prentiss and put him on the convoy for home.
Back in her office and no doubt flush with the frustration of dealing with Purbright, Matron calls Kitty in to reprimand her, and dismisses her from her post when the VAD questions her methods. Kitty marches away with her head held high, but later seems to regret her decision. Kitty tries to find Rosalie, but instead stumbles upon a hiding, delirious Private Malloy, who has stolen a pair of what look like scissors. When he threatens to kill her saying he has “nothing left to lose,” Kitty tells him to go ahead.
Malloy seems confused that she won’t beg, but then starts to cry after admitting that he is dying. Kitty tells him that she will stay with him. She is found by Matron, and they both stay at Malloy’s bedside as he pours his heart out and passes away. Matron tells Kitty that she must write his mother and say he “died peacefully and without pain,” which is what they always say, even if the death is not. A humbled Kitty answers with a quiet “Yes, Matron.” The women reach an understanding. Kitty stays under probation, and later apologizes to Rosalie for being cruel.
Kitty writes her letter in what looks like the cafeteria tent, and is approached by a flirtatious Miles and an apologetic Tom. Miles could not have chosen a worse time to trot out what are very obviously well-used come-ons, and Kitty shoots him down before walking off with the calm disinterest of a woman who is all out of f*cks. It surprises a laugh out of serious Tom, but Miles isn’t discouraged at all, giving himself a week before she is eating out of his hand.
Later that evening, the last of the new arrivals appears on a motorcycle, Sister Joan Livesey. Matron is thrilled with the addition of another actual nurse, and Margaret is not thrilled with how thrilled she is, which no doubt informs her decision later that night.
The VADs stand outside as the soldiers head back out to the front, and as the camera pans over the troops, we see Prentiss is among them. A resentful Sister Margaret never gave him the pass entrusted to her by Col. Brett, so back to the front he goes. As Flora wishes the men a fervent “Good luck, boys!” we get one last glimpse of Sister Joan, inside the tent she shares with them, absently fingering an engagement ring on a chain around her neck. She raises it to her lips and whispers “Stay alive for me. Stay alive. Stay alive.”
She has her prayer, I have mine.