*Warning: Contains spoilers*
19th November heralds the premiere of the new series of ‘Last Tango in Halifax’, following its previous BAFTA success for ‘Best Drama Series’. I am not one who would normally look forward to BBC dramas, but this really is something to put in the diary.
The second series continues to follow the lives of two widowed pensioners (Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid) who reconnected via Facebook and found themselves rekindling a flame that had formerly burnt when they were just sixteen. These are not the caricatured, dementia-riddled and daft old folk that we are habitually exposed to on our TV screens. These are people who are aspirational, drive sports cars, and enjoy complex and fulfilling relationships. It is not patronising, nor tokenistic; it is a dignified and realistic portrayal of the elderly, and one which is long overdue.
That said, the twilight romance is not the novelty, nor even the key theme of the series. In fact it becomes the platform of stability and normality around which other dramas unfold. It is the middle-aged offspring (Sarah Lancashire; Nicola Walker) and their associated rabble who are dysfunctional and incompetent; Tony Gardner plays a very convincing man-in-a-midlife-crisis. The contrast in the portrayal of Men and Women is a striking feature of the drama, and whilst it is pleasing to see women occupying the strongest roles, perhaps the portrayal of Tony Gardner’s character, John, as an unlikeable twit, leaves too little room for compassion. After all, this is a man whose wife and the mother of his children, has left him for another woman. He is too ugly a character to garner sympathy, which therefore leaves the emotional disruption to his life largely unexplored.
The writer, Sally Wainwright, spins a good yarn, if a little taut at times with the sheer number of dramatic revelations; to name but a few: a lesbian love affair, an underage pregnancy, an attempted lesbian pregnancy, a compassionate killing, a nut allergy and middle-aged people engaging in sexual relations. In hindsight you question whether this is really believable. Whilst watching, however, it is not problematic. This could be testament to the quality of the script writing or the high-standard of acting; I think both. Together they manage to convey real life, realistically. More often than not, the most bizarre, unfathomable, or heart-wrenchingly unfortunate stories that we hear are real-life ones (the daily stories exposed on Jeremy Kyle paint a crass but illustrative picture: “my daughter turned out to be my grandfather”-esque tales), the kind that end with “you just couldn’t make it up” (except you can, and turn it into a BBC drama).
The series explores, with a mastery of writing and acting, the symbiotic cruelty and beauty of life’s course: actions taken, and those not taken; paths littered with missed opportunities; the entanglement of different lives; the fragility of human life but the robustness of the human spirit, all of which is interspersed with beautiful landscape scenes. These offer respite from the chaos, and the constancy of the landscape also gives grounding to the characters and serves as a device for universalisation; living in the same landscape are other families who are perhaps experiencing similar turmoil.
It is tender, but not saccharine; none of the characters are completely likeable, or completely ‘good’ and it is funny, but laced with the darkness of real life pain. This is a drama series with excellent actors and a well written script; a rare jewel in recent times. Do not be put off if you missed the first series, the new series (and indeed each episode) can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story of thwarted lives and complex relationships.
Last Tango in Halifax Season Two starts on 19 November on BBC