Jenny Agutter plays Sister Julienne in Call The Midwife.
Where is Sister Julienne at the start of this series?
At the beginning of Series 8, Sister Julienne finds herself in a bit of a predicament because, sadly, the Mother Superior falls ill, and it’s clear that she’s very close to the end. So the nuns are called over to the Mother House to decide what will happen in the future, and it becomes apparent that Sister Julienne is a very likely candidate to take over. So we have to deal with all that. I can’t say too much about it, except that it’s difficult!
Was it interesting to play these sequences?
Yes. As a character, there is quite a lot to go through in terms of obedience. Sister Julienne loves being in her own space and being in Poplar, and she would have to move away from that if she became Mother Superior. In fact, I met one of the nuns recently who the Nonnatans are based on, and she said something very similar had happened to her.
Can you expand on that?
She was called to be Mother Superior and be in charge. She was called away from all the things she wanted to do. She told me she just had to obey. The choice simply wasn’t given to her because that’s what she had to do. If that is your duty, then you’re bound to do it. It’s something that’s come up in the past with Sister Julienne – that question of obedience against what one feels one needs to do. It’s a constant battle. But it makes for very good scenes to play.
How similar are you to your character Sister Julienne?
I’m not sure that I share very many qualities with Sister Julienne, because she seems to me all about tolerance and patience and understanding and taking life in her stride and not necessarily feeling that change is possible. I am impatient, I’m not tolerant. If there are things I feel should be changed, I don’t see why one shouldn’t shout and make a song and dance about them and try and make the changes. But I’m trying to learn that there are perhaps other ways as well. You have to concede sometimes that things are difficult and you can’t necessarily always change them.
What are the particular challenges of working with babies?
It’s not the easiest thing working with babies because you get quite restricted hours to shoot in a very particular way and have to be extraordinarily careful about handling them. Sometimes they sleep entirely through the shots when you want them to be awake, and sometimes they scream when you want them to be quiet. Then you have the birth scenes where you have to shoot them in such a way that they seem to be arriving. That’s a matter of covering and covering and covering, which means long days filming.
For all that, is it still a joy to have the babies on set?
Yes. It’s always a delight when we get the babies on. Everybody gets very hushed and very quiet. On set everything is very gentle, and everyone suddenly becomes a mother hen around the place. They are all hoping that they going to be able to hold the baby. Mainly, though, the baby stays in the arms of Terri Coates, our midwife, who looks after the mothers and the babies when they come. She seldom allows us to stay with the baby in our arms for very long. But we coo and goo and love working with them!