By BRUCE DENNILL
Last Tango In Halifax / PGDL / Directed by Euros Lynn and Sam Donovan
A six-part mini-series about love lost, found, broken, repaired and resisted, Last Tango In Halifax takes place in Yorkshire, where the definite article is charmingly anathema (“I’ll put kettle on”; “We’re going down pub”). That’s about all that’s missing from this generally well-written romantic drama, however.
The central plot mechanism is the rediscovered romance between Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid) who had eyes for each other as teenagers and then lost contact, only to reconnect via Facebook when in their seventies and find themselves still besotted with each other, despite their having lived entire lifetimes without each other.
Alan and Celia’s adult daughters Gillian (Nicola Walker) and Caroline (Sarah Lancashire), respectively, are notably less lucky in love than their sprightly parents and scriptwriter Sally Wainwright – who based the story on her own experiences after her mother went through similar relationship rejuvenation – cleverly intertwines a number of ever more complex romantic or plainly physical collaborations within a small geographical and social niche. This allows her to pack a huge amount of drama into each episode, which in turn makes the series compulsive viewing.
Jacobi’s Alan is a man of rare gentleness and sensitivity, played to often tear-inducing perfection by the theatre veteran. He’s the cream of the crop here, but everyone else is close behind, with Reid giving Celia a mix of warmth, humour and vulnerability that makes it easy to believe that she’d be easy to love and occasionally disappoint via her reactions to various situations.
Gillian and Caroline are largely to blame for the pickles they repeatedly find themselves in, though the mitigating factors for their bad decision-making are similar: recovering from the pain and disappointment of past relationships makes it difficult to invest fully in potential new liaisons.
The fact that the plot is propelled forward by two septuganerians, one of them living on an impossible-to-reach Yorkshire farm, should not lead you to believe that this is all about people sitting and chatting over cups of tea. There are car chases, haunted houses, xenophobic attacks and deep-seated homophobia to deal with, among much else. A slightly punchier denouement and this would be unmissable. As it is, it’s intelligent entertainment of superior quality, well worth adding to the collection.