Last week, Call the Midwife’s springtime episode put the spotlight on both Trixie’s engagement party and Patsy’s slow-burning romance with her girlfriend, Delia, giving us all hope that everlasting love was in the air in Poplar.
Think again—especially in the case of Patsy and Delia, the latter of whom wisely did not appear in this week’s episode. The 21st-century CTM fans got a painful slap in the face this week as the show turned its attention to one of the more embarrassing episodes of British history: the criminalization of homosexuality. Although this topic has been well-covered territory of late, specifically in the 2014 film The Imitation Game, and to an extent, in the more recent Thomas Barrow subplots on Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife’s decision to jump on the gay story-line bandwagon took the subject matter a step further. In addition to illustrating the government’s harsh penalties (homosexuality wouldn’t be decriminalized in Britain until 1967), Call the Midwife portrayed a far more crippling effect the U.K.’s anti-homosexuality stance had on gay men at the time: the ostracism they endured by their own families and community. This week’s main plotline is a reflection of the mores of the period, and while it may be tremendously upsetting to watch, there are a lot of hard truths in it.
Shortly after the camera pans over the exterior of a men’s public restroom in the episode’s opening moments (once again, I must criticize the unnecessary heavy-handedness here), we meet Tony Amos (Richard Fleeshman in an excellent performance). Tony is a mechanic in his father-in-law’s garage, and he’s got a young pregnant wife, Marie (coincidentally played by onetime Downton Abbey actress Cara Theobold), at home. But even before Tony takes a nighttime stroll over to the public men’s room nearby, the 2015 viewers know what’s coming. When Marie gets a midwife visit from Patsy, she shows off her husband’s “pride and joy”—the spotless parlor—and prattles on about how he “loves this room to be just so.” It’s hard not to scream at the television, “Marie! Open your eyes!” but we need to give her the benefit of the doubt here. This is someone who grew up in a world where homosexuality was considered “unnatural,” and the likelihood of Marie having any sort of “gaydar” was a stretch of the imagination.
So Tony is caught kissing a man—who happened to be an undercover police officer staking out the well-known spot for discreet assignations—and is summarily arrested by Sergeant Peter Noakes. Peter shows Tony zero mercy, which is both disappointing, as we’ve come to know the local copper as one of the more kindhearted chaps on Call the Midwife, and realistic for the time. It begs the question—if Chummy were around for this episode, would she have helped to soften his approach? Sadly, we’ll never know.
What follows is a traumatic downward spiral of Tony’s existence—and ironically, his appearance at court on the charges of “sexual perversion and moral corruption” was the easy part. Thanks to Dr. Turner, who served as a character witness, Tony is not sentenced to prison, but his life as he knew it is over: He loses his job at the garage, the word “Queer” is painted across the Amos’ front door, and the Nonnatus House handyman, Fred, kicks Tony out of Poplar’s Civil Defence Corps (the neighborhood H-bomb watch).
NEXT: An awkward dinner conversation