Here's a contention with which some of you may violently disagree. The finest work of drama on British television this year has not been a labyrithine Scandinavian detective series, all mood and knitwear, or an overblown American-made crypto-terrorist thriller, or even a period piece full of lords, ladies, loyal servants and posh frocks. I don't watch much television – I realise that everyone says that: just like I don't drink much, or I hardly ever smoke – but these past few weeks I have been gripped by a six-part BBC series which was one of the most flawlessly executed dramas I have seen in a very long time. Everything about Last Tango in Halifax was note perfect: even its title is carefully crafted to convey the improbably heady mix of fin de siecle sex and West Yorkshire. The storyline couldn't be less fashionable – a kitchen-sink tale of lost love and late-blossoming passion between a couple in their seventies – but the magnificence of the acting and the skill of the writing gave it a timeless nature which served as a perfect reminder that, for all its current woes, the BBC still produces work of unique mass appeal and of a particular quality we are unlikely to see on other channels.
There was so much to admire – from the beautiful script by Sally Wainwright, who was herself born in Halifax, to the powerful performances by old stagers Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid and, particularly, the utterly brilliant Sarah Lancashire – but it was the way in which so many threads were woven into the narrative that gave it an almost epic feel. Certainly, the panoramic shots of the rolling Pennines communicated the idea that this was a story that was wide in its scope.
So we had betrayal, guilt, class war, illicit sex, alcoholism, infidelity, family breakdown, bigotry, homosexuality, plus some sharp social commentary. Alan, played by Jacobi, begins to have doubts about his paramour Celia (Reid), believing she might not share his open-minded view of the world. “She reads t'Daily Mail, Celia does,” he tells his daughter. “How long have you known this, dad?” she asks, shocked, as if her father has just revealed that the woman he is about to marry is a devil-worshipper or a Man United supporter.
There were so many bittersweet moments that, by the end of the Wednesday night's concluding episode, my emotions were shredded. There were so many layers to the story that would have resonated with much of the audience: rarely these days do you see something on television, a medium dominated by reality shows, that is so real.
It is not entirely surprising that Last Tango in Halifax will return for a second series in the new year. It gained impressive viewing figures – more than seven million.
But what I find particularly pleasing is that, among the shoot-'em-up, track-'em-down, serve-'em-goose dramas, there is still a market for something which is homespun, original, contemporary and, above all, warm. Bravo!
See you on Monday for some last-minute opinion.
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