TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 1

“We’re not burglars, we’re pensioners”

Going to the theatre as much as I do means that there’s a limit to the number of TV shows that I can watch as they air and so I have to make choices. And opting not to watch Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango to Halifax was one of the poorer decisions of recent times as I soon found out from the rapturous reception from many around me. But lucky boy that I am, the DVD of the show was one of my birthday presents and so I was able to binge on the six episodes over a weekend.

And of course it justified its Best Drama Series BAFTA within its opening minutes and completely entranced me with its world-beating quality and utter classiness. Its main premise is the reconnection between childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia who are now both widowed, in their 70s and just discovering the joys of Facebook. When their IT-literate grandchildren engineer a meeting between the pair, the old flame splutters back into life and we follow the gorgeously sensitive and romantic road that they tread to try and recapture that youthful happiness.

Anne Reid’s conservative and smart Celia and Derek Jacobi’s sweetly gentle Alan are just fantastic as the romantic leads of this story and there’s something so affecting about seeing a fully-fleshed and beautifully written relationship between an older couple, a most unrepresented subject area on our screens, especially when it is so well played as it is here. But when their daughters are brought into the equation – simply excellent performances from both Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker – a whole deal of drama comes into play as life’s complications threaten the new equilibrium Alan and Celia have found.

From Lancashire’s tightly-buttoned Caroline, focused on maintaining her career as her feckless husband – Tony Gardner ace as the ingratiating hangdog John – to Walker’s pragmatic farmer Gillian, forever dealing with the consequences of her randiness, every episode is full of superlative acting moments. Lancashire and Reid tracing the deep but largely unspoken affection between the emotionally challenged mother and daughter; Walker depicting the raw grief that comes the realisation that our parents won’t be around forever; and Jacobi and Reid showing us the joy of discovering that life is far from over.

It looks lovely throughout, making great use of the Yorkshire locations, and has an undoubtedly heart-warming charm. It is far from being too cosy as well, with the intransigence of long held attitudes particularly vividly displayed in the final episode, and the challenges of children seeing their parents as people with their own lives being played out across more than one generation is a powerfully recurring motif. I’m delighted that a second series has been commissioned and one can only hope that the whole cast return and Wainwright maintains the uncluttered strength of her writing to repeat the success of some truly great British television.

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