Call the Midwife: Jenny Agutter on working with Margolyes
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Call the Midwife returns this evening with a jam-packed second episode of series 11. Trixie and Sister Frances put their training to the test as they join Dr Turner at the monthly cytology clinic, which is experiencing high numbers of patients for routine cervical smear tests. Sister Frances examines a newly married woman whilst there, who has presented some concerning symptoms. Meanwhile, Lucien helps Vivien, a single mother of three, through her fourth pregnancy — and intervenes when local authorities question her capabilities as a mother.
Sister Hilda and Shelagh take the lead in helping fight a scabies epidemic that has rapidly engulfed Poplar, while Miss Higgins is offered a place to stay at Nonnatus House after suffering a traumatic experience.
Miriam Margolyes returned to the series for the Christmas special last month, and stars in the new series too.
Best known for playing the role of Professor Sprout in two of the Harry Potter films, she plays Mother Superior at the Mother House.
Yet, despite her role as Mother Superior — the head of the nunnery — the Bible played a large part in one of the most difficult periods of her life.
Outside of her acting work, Ms Margolyes is openly lesbian.
She has been in a relationship with Heather Sutherland, a now retired Australian professor of Indonesian studies, since 1968.
The couple split their time between the UK, Australia and Italy.
Ms Margolyes, 80, admitted in a throwback interview that telling her parents that she was gay whilst in her twenties was the most difficult part of her journey towards living openly as a lesbian.
Attitudes towards same-sex relationships at the time were very different to how they are today.
Speaking to journalist Johnny Seifert in 2016, she said: “People who were gay were pitied and ridiculed by my parents — they had no modern sense of people being allowed to be who they were.
“And I didn’t tell my parents, in fact, until I was something like 27.
“My mother was utterly appalled and disgusted.
“She told my father, although I didn’t want her to, but she did because they shared everything.”
She added: “They made me swear on the Bible in the drawing room, in the most formal way, that I would never sleep with a woman again.”
Writing in her memoir ‘This Much Is True’, Ms Margolyes explained that she had a “completely loving and open” relationship with her mother, and they “talked about everything” together.
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Despite telling her parents, she did not think they believed her.
She wrote: “They knew it was possible, but Miriam wasn’t going to be like that because Miriam was perfect and to be a lesbian was imperfection, so it simply couldn’t be entertained for one moment.”
It was at this point that her parents forced her to swear on the Bible. She obliged, knowing full well that she would break the promise.
Days later, Ms Margolyes’ mother had a stroke. She had a second “devastating” stroke three months later, which set her on a path of “appalling illness” before eventually passing away in 1974.
The actress heartbreakingly believes her coming out may have “caused” the stroke “in some way”.
She wrote: “I had caused the person I loved most in the world a pain she could not bear.
“It was a horrendous time and I was very unhappy. I knew I couldn’t change what I was; I should not have told them.”
Ms Margolyes added that she believes some people cannot accept loved ones being LGBTQ+, and should not have to if they cannot.
She wrote that her friend Sir Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, disagrees.
She wrote: “He feels you should come out as an encouragement to others and be true to yourself.
“It’s better if people can truly be who they are meant to be — but my insistence on opening up hurt the ones I loved the most in the world.”
Ms Margolyes also added that her mother would likely have tried to end her relationship with Heather had she been in full health.
Call The Midwife airs at 8pm tonight. It will also be available on BBC iPlayer.
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