The BBC recently released Last Tango in Halifax, a thoroughly charming drama, mostly based on a true story. The series recently aired in the U.S on PBS.
This two-disc set includes the six episodes that make up the initial series run. A second series has already filmed and is coming soon. After viewing these first six installments, that’s good news indeed.
Last Tango in Halifax is not your typical modern television program. It has no crimes to investigate, no medical mysteries to solve, no aliens, no disasters, and no chase scenes. Wait, strike that last one. It is, however, remarkable for being a simple love story between two people in their 70s, an age group far under-served on TV. And it’s incredibly sweet.
As the story begins, Alan Buttershaw (Derek Jacobi, The King’s Speech) is living with his widowed daughter, Gillian (Nicola Walker, MI-5), and her teenage son, Raff (Josh Bolt, Nowhere Boy). Lonely and missing his departed wife, Alan decides to play around on Facebook, searching for his old classmates. Celia Dawson (Anne Reid, Upstairs Downstairs), the woman Alan once harbored a huge crush on is not only one of the few left alive, but also currently without a spouse. The two begin an electronic pen pal relationship, which soon evolves into much, much more.
Celia is also residing with her daughter, Caroline (Sarah Lancanshire, Lark Rise to Candleford), who has been going through marital strife with husband John (Tony Gardner, Lead Balloon). John is a cheater and Caroline may be a lesbian, considering a romance with a co-worker named Kate (Nina Sosanya, Silk). Which doesn’t make their two sons feel very good.
It’s into this chaos that Celia and Alan’s relationship unfolds. They are bonded instantly, while their families have to deal not only with the a clan of new people in their lives, but their own messy issues. There is a lot of authenticity and heart in Last Tango in Halifax, but there is also some darkness and a few doses of reality in the subplots, which helps keep the tale grounded as more than a fairy tale.
The back story of this couple-that-almost-wasn’t is fun and full of foibles. What one doesn’t realize at first is that the past will have lasting implications, though they won’t pop up until late in the run. There are not serious consequences, at least not that we’ve seen yet, but there’s an emotional wallop that feels both natural and unexpected, and if anything, is downplayed more than it should be after it emerges.
I like both the way the characters are so relatable, as well as the departure from the usual formula. There really isn’t anything else like this series currently airing, and this production is very well done, with some superb acting, especially from the pair at the center. I wish more networks would take chances and show us another side of human nature that is so often ignored on the small screen.
The only thing that feels a little staged is the rift that comes between Alan and Celia at the end of the season. They get along so perfectly up til then, and when it happens, it’s swift and major. I have a hard time believing either would think about taking a drastic step apart when they’ve been so happy with one another, even considering the very reasonable thing that comes between them. But the resolution sort of saves things, and without giving too much away, at least there’s material left over for a second season.
This DVD set has no special features whatsoever. After looking over the Wikipedia page on the series, that feels extra surprising, considering the very interesting origins of the show. I really wish there had at least been some interviews and discussions about this, and feel a little let down that there’s not. But it is a solid batch of episodes that can stand on their own, so as much as I might yearn for more, I can’t fault what is present.
Last Tango in Halifax is available now.