Last Tango in Halifax

Anglo Files 15
by Cara Winter

Last Tango in Halifax  is a drama written by Sally Wainwright (writer/creator of the remarkably good Happy Valley) starring Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid as widowed Alan and Celia, childhood sweethearts who haven’t clapped eyes on each other for 60 years. Thanks to the ubiquitous (now even for octogenarians) Facebook, they find each other again, meet for coffee, and instantly remember exactly how they felt as kids.

The first few episodes were delightful, and kept the focus on Alan and Celia.  I have been a huge fan of Derek Jacobi since I was a young’n, and watching him in this role is a treat. He is at once an older gentleman, and a child, able to express 60 years worth of longing in a single look.  Jacobi is a genius at his craft, and if you haven’t seen him as anything other than the Archbishop in The King’s Speech… please see him in this.  Anne Reid’s performance is also solid; you don’t feel as though she’s ever forcing a single moment, everything is nuanced, organic, and rich.  And it’s not every day you get to see actors of-a-certain-age in a straight-up love story, either (so kudos to BBC and Wainwright for making Last Tango in the first place!)

From the point they decide they want to be together, Real Life begins to thwart Alan and Celia’s union.  For example, Alan finds out Celia voted for Thatcher, while he’s Labor and reads the Guardian.  They also begin to realize they’re from completely different worlds (Celia’s is posh; Alan’s is salt-of-the-earth).  Yet, more or less right away, they realize how little things like this matter.   Even when their daughters turn on one another, and the whole family seems at odds… as far as their being together, it does not matter.  In it’s best moments, this show reminds us that life is short, and love transcends all.

I was less interested in the plot-lines of Alan and Celia’s extended family;  Sarah Lancashire plays Celia’s uptight, perfect-home-havin’ daughter Caroline, who is a closeted lesbian, and going through a nasty divorce; Nicola Walker plays Alan’s hard-working, sexually indiscriminate daughter, Gillian.  While I tend to be a fan of using over-40 women in any fashion on the telly, I did ultimately feel like their stories were forced.  The performances were not to blame; the actors are wonderful.  It just all felt a bit manufactured; drama for drama’s sake, things constantly thrown at Alan and Celia, presumably to see if their love for one another could be thrown off course. But… how many teen pregnancies, lesbian lovers, and alcohol-infused sexual escapades can one family have?  To me, this exposes the weakness of the premise; once Alan and Celia have fallen in love, the “story” really is over.  Or, should have been.

Last Tango was widely viewed in the U.K. and here in the U.S., and won some awards.  I think mostly this is due to the strong performances by the cast (especially Jacobi and Reid), and the strength of the dialogue (albeit hampered by the plot), and smart direction.  It’s worth watching, for sure, just to see Derek Jacobi in the role of a lifetime.

Last Tango in Halifax was a BBC One production, re-broadcast on PBS, with Seasons 1 and 2 now on NETFLIX.  Season 3 exists (try PBS?), and a 4th is in the works.

Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

Author: Cara Winter

Born & raised in Kalamazoo, MI (yes, there really is a Kalamazoo). Living, writing & raising a son in Chicago, IL. BFA in Acting from New York University / Tisch School of the Arts. Professional stage actress for 20 years; member, Actor's Equity Association Writing for the stage since 2000.