Last Tango in Halifax, BBC1, review: Cosy familiarity and real surprises are perfectly in step

The simmering mother-daughter row is the kind of thing Sally Wainwright writes so well

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The Independent Culture

Last Tango in Halifax is so good and so widely praised, you’d think it would have some imitators by now. But as the third series opened tonight on BBC1, there’s still nothing else quite like Sally Wainwright’s clever, cosy family  drama on television.

With loved up septuagenarians Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid) now happily hitched, there was another controversial wedding in the offing. Celia’s daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire) and her partner, Kate (Nina Sosanya), were planning to make it official before their new baby arrived.

Celia, like many of her generation, was having a hard time wrapping her head around the whole "two mums" deal, leading to a slowly simmering mother-daughter row of the kind Wainwright writes so well. "You do know that’s all bollocks don’t you?" said Caroline, reaching for the door. "I was born this way, to quote Lady Gaga." Celia wasn’t about to let her have the last word. "Oooh, I like Lady Gaga, she’s nuts..." she shouted after her. "She reckons to be a lesbian. I bet she isn’t, no more than you are."

Last Tango is full of excellent, understated performances like these, but it’s Nicola Walker as Gillian who usually emerges as the heart of the drama. That was the case when her hopes of a civilised romance (as opposed to another fumble in the back seat of that dusty Land Rover) were raised by a supremely awkward Valentine’s date. Or at least she thought she was on a date.

It turned out that the dashing Gary (Rupert Graves, aka Sherlock’s Inspector Lestrade) was more interested in her dad. No, not like that – even Last Tango in Halifax isn’t that broadminded. In true Long Lost Family style, Gary had recently discovered that the man he’d grown up believing was his father, wasn’t, and his real dad might in fact be Alan. Except that Alan would never have cheated on Gillian’s mum, would he? After two series, we’re still getting to know these complicated and unexpected characters and what a pleasure it is, too.