Last Tango in Halifax, BBC One, review
Jane Shilling reviews the first episode of Last Tango in Halifax, the new BBC One drama starring Anne Reid and Sir Derek Jacobi as old flames reunited via Facebook.
Sarah Lancashire, Anne Reid, Derek Jacobi and Nicola Walker star in Last Tango in Halifax, which was on BBC on 20 November Photo: BBC
By Jane Shilling
10:00PM GMT 20 Nov 2012
“Like all the very young we took it for granted that making love is child’s play,” says a character in Nancy Mitford’s novel, The Pursuit of Love, contemplating with fascinated horror the impending nuptials of her middle-aged aunt.
When it comes to romance, television drama is inclined to follow the Mitford line. The idea that passion and (ew!) physical attraction might coexist with white hair and varifocals is strictly the stuff of comedy – and the comedy of embarrassment at that.
But Sally Wainwright’s new series harbours ambitions to change all that. Wainwright, whose writing credits include the detective series Scott & Bailey, was inspired to write Last Tango in Halifax (BBC One) by the experience of her mother, who logged onto Friends Reunited, found a schoolfriend she’d not seen for 60 years, fell in love at the age of 75 and married, late and blissfully.
In her drama, Wainwright turns the teenaged grandsons of her septuagenarian lovers into an unlikely brace of spotty cupids, signing the old folk up to Facebook in last night’s opening episode.
Click, click, and Celia (Anne Reid) and Alan (Derek Jacobi) were in touch for the first time since he asked her out, 60 years ago, and she stood him up. Another couple of clicks and they’d arranged to meet for coffee in Skipton.
It turned out that love moves as swiftly when you’re very old as it does when you’re very young. After a car chase (also an occupation often considered suitable only for the young) Celia and Alan decided that the moment had come to make up for all those wasted decades.
It would be fair to say that their respective daughters, Celia’s Caroline (Sarah Lancashire), a headmistress with a rocky marriage, and Alan’s Gillian (Nicola Walker), a widowed farmer, were not overwhelmed with joy at the news.
After slogging all the way to Skipton to pick up their love-struck oldies (whose cars had not survived the final impact of the chase) they had a violent row in the car park, when Gillian nicked Caroline’s space, at that point unaware they were both bent on the same rescue mission.
The ways in which this story of late love might have gone wrong were numerous, but with the help of beautifully nuanced performances from her cast, Wainwright steered an entertaining course between the Scylla of sentimental regret and the Charybdis of patronising caricature. Jacobi and Reid as the lovers determined not to waste a moment in grieving for what might have been are immensely touching: the connection between them so persuasive that you believe entirely in their thwarted teenage passion.
Oddly enough, the least interesting bits of the story were the really dramatic ones – Caroline’s lesbian flirtation with a school colleague and Gillian’s bitter feud with her late husband’s brother. You wanted them to hurry up so that you could get back to contemplating the bittersweet spectacle of Celia and Alan’s late-blooming love.