Last Tango in Halifax: TV review
Don't be fooled by the cardigans and tea, there's nowt twee about this drama
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Wednesday 20 November 2013
It wasn't so long ago that a pre-watershed lesbian kiss in the Channel 4 soap Brookside made headlines. Now, thankfully, not only is a woman's relationship with another woman considered mundane enough to feature in a cosy family drama, but Caroline'n'Kate isn't even the most radical thing about Last Tango in Halifax on BBC1.
Watching Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid) reminisce about old times against the backdrop of the South Pennines was a gentle reminder of what audiences are missing as a consequence of TV's youth obsession.
What do the 22-year-olds on Made in Chelsea know of true love? Nowt, as Alan might say. If you want real emotional depth and nuanced backstory – the stuff of real drama, in other words – try two pensioner protagonists. In the last series, Alan and Celia's late-life romance made Last Tango in Halifax a surprise hit. In this series, Alan is recovering from a heart attack, which means the wedding is back on, even if they have to elope to make it happen.
There's a lot of grey cardigans, tutting and talk of putting "t'kettle" on, but while the drama is unapologetically domestic, it's also never less than compelling. The script is elevated above the likes Last of the Summer Wine by a surrounding family dynamic that's every bit as dark and bitter as the central romance is light and sweet. We have writer Sally Wainwright to thank for that mainly, but the character actors playing Alan and Celia's extended clan are also uniformly brilliant. If you know him as Professor Shales in Fresh Meat, you'll know how entertaining Tony Gardner is as a self-pitying slimeball and while she may always be Raquel from Corrie in our hearts, Sarah Lancashire once again demonstrates her versatility as Caroline.
When the casting was first announced, it seemed surprising that National Theatre stalwart and luvvie's luvvie Derek Jacobi would be lowering himself to appear in TV programme. By now, it's very clear he's among peers.
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