Call the Midwife’s Miriam Margolyes: ‘I’m less frightened about death now’

In a fascinating two-part documentary, Harry Potter and Call the Midwife star Miriam Margolyes confronts her own mortality…

If there’s one guarantee in life, it’s that, one day, we’re all going to die. Despite that fact, death remains a subject people rarely like to talk about.

Acting legend Miriam Margolyes openly admits she’s terrified of dying. But, in a new two-part documentary, Miriam’s Dead Good Adventure, the outspoken Harry Potter star, 77, has decided to confront her own fears of ageing and death to explore one of the world’s last taboos: our mortality.

Miriam – most recently seen playing the formidable Mother Mildred in BBC1’s Call the Midwife – travels across America, Europe and the UK, meeting people who are resisting ‘the end’ and others who are facing the inevitable.

Here, Miriam Margolyes tells TV Times more about her journey of discovery…

Why do you think it’s important for people to talk more openly about death?

“For so long, death has been a subject that people couldn’t talk about. It makes people embarrassed or nervous and that doesn’t help anyone. I think we should all talk about it and that’s why I have made this programme. You can’t generalise about death, which is odd, when it’s the most universal experience. Everyone deals with it differently – but it’s the only thing that absolutely everyone will go through.”

Miriam Margolyes in coffin

So, do you hope this programme will make the subject of death less taboo?

“I want to do things that matter and open people’s eyes. There are very serious fissures in our society and we have a responsibility to close them.”

In this first episode, you attend the Revolution Against Ageing and Death Festival in California, where one visitor claims he wants to live until he’s 500 years old. What would a 500-year-old Miriam be like?

“There would be no point in reaching the age of 500 unless I was much the same person, only better. We hope to improve as we grow older. I don’t think anyone is going to be burdened with me in 500 years. I hope people will still say that I have lovely eyes!”

You also visit the Church of Perpetual Life in Florida, a community hoping to prolong their lives with expensive supplements. Do you think worrying about death is a privilege that’s only reserved for the wealthy and healthy?

“We should all take the time to think about death but I do think that death is easier for the rich. I resent that fiercely. It’s wrong but that’s the truth.”

As well as meeting those trying to preserve life, in next week’s second episode, you meet Tracy, a woman with terminal ovarian cancer, who’s preparing for her death. How would you describe her?

“Tracy was a sophisticated, gracious and enquiring woman in her Sixties with a family she adored. She had so much to live for. Right to the end, Tracy’s life was full of passion for living and passion for her daughters. That is the kind of unselfishness we should all try to emulate and learn from. Tracy made life rich. She was extraordinary and very special.”

What was the toughest part of this journey for you, emotionally?

“The toughest part of this experience was saying goodbye to Tracy for the last time. I didn’t want to cry when we said our goodbyes. It felt that it would have been impertinent to cry because I was going on and living.”

Has making this programme changed the way you feel about death?

“Yes, the film has definitely changed the way I feel about death. I’m less frightened by it now. I feel really in awe of the people I met who have faced death so beautifully and so gracefully. I’ll never forget the experience and I’ll never forget them.”

Miriam Margolyes as Mother Mildred

Miriam as Mother Mildred in BBC1’s Call the Midwife

Viewers loved seeing you on TV recently in The Real Marigold on Tour and Call the Midwife. Did making this documentary prompt you to reflect on your life and career and perhaps what you’d still like to do?

“I think I’m always reflecting on my life and the things I want to achieve. The series certainly confirmed, for me, the important of getting on with things. Time is finite. We all have to deal with death and at least I’ve got a coffin out of it. I tried it for size and now I need to collect it!”

Miriam’s Dead Good Adventure starts on Easter Sunday at 9pm on BBC2.