The Midwife from writer/director Martin Provost (best-known outside Europe for the biopic Séraphine) is a comedic character piece that threatens to get awfully mawkish, especially into its second half, but is continually pulled back from the brink by Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot.
In their first ever screen pairing, Deneuve (a star since the ‘60s) and Frot (a star since the ‘80s) really shine here, and offset what is a very familiar storyline with a creeping line in gooey live-life-to-the-fullest-type triteness.
Frot’s Claire is a midwife who dearly loves her job and is appalled when she discovers that the maternity clinic at which she’s long worked is to be closed down due to supposed technological advances (and, of course, to increase profits). She has a son (Quentin Dolmaire as Simon) who might or might not pursue a career as a doctor, an interest in gardening, a stagnant love life and more, but eventually the main focus here is what happens when Beatrice (Deneuve) enters her life in a whirl of free-spirited clichés.
Beatrice is revealed to be the mistress of Claire’s late father and she’s turned up to make amends to the Dad for obvious reasons, but it’s too late, so she sets her sights on doing the right thing and apologising to Claire. However, Claire isn’t having any of that at first, but soon she falls for Beatrice’s charms, and allows the older woman to brighten up her life in tried-and-tested fashion, even going so far as taking her advice and trying it on with oh-so-nice guy Paul (Olivier Gourmet).
After a strong first third or so with a quiet, observational aspect and an understated performance from Frot (who was so dedicated to onscreen verisimilitude that she actually delivered five babies during the production), this takes a turn towards the schmaltzy and hoary when Deneuve comes in, and yet it’s still worth catching to watch these two trés formidable French titans face off.
Rated PG. The Midwife is in cinemas now.