Friday, 14 September 2012

Television Reviews: 14 September

Michael Moran is enchanted by a tale of love rekindled on the internet

Written by Michael Moran
Michael-Moran1My word, some of these television writers are clever, aren't they? Last Tango In Halifax (Tuesday at 9pm, BBC One) has a basic setup that, written on paper, looks to have about enough creative scope for a one-hour play at most. There is, as I will endeavour to explain, just a shade more to it than that.

After their nascent teenage romance faltered over a misunderstanding in 1953, Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid), pictured above, lost touch with one another. They made marriages that were both in their different ways entirely ordinary and went on to raise two very contrasting daughters. When, by coincidence, both of them are signed up to Facebook by their grandsons, they meet and find that the long-neglected spark between them still glimmers.

An agreeable enough tale you might think, enlivened in this case by some stellar casting in the two leads. But what writer Sally Wainwright has done, is take this likeable notion (based on the true story of her own mother's social media romance) and bolt on a brace of cracking subplots. Either of those background stories could comfortably have carried a show of their own. The net result is something close to brilliant.

Sprinkle a little more stellar casting in the shape of Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker as the two daughters, and you've got something well-nigh unmissable. Frankly, at this stage, throwing in all those lavish vistas of huge, cinematic Yorkshire skies is almost gilding it.

Filming epistolary novels always carries the danger of losing your audience as characters mutely scribble letters while their 'inner voice' reads them to you. Dramas about people sending emails are, if anything, worse. Here the typing is kept to a bare minimum, and the indecision of the long-distance emailer is deliciously handled.

The show's billed as a romantic comedy. There's certainly some comedy as the elderly couple affect to mispronounce cappuccino and get involved in a medium-speed car chase. But there is drama too in the shape of a prodigal husband and the faint whiff of a murder mystery. And of course at the core of it all there's that genuinely touching and beautifully-played romance.

You might think that a story of two 70-somethings falling in love in the picturesque Yorkshire countryside was aimed exclusively at the older audience. I watched it with a 10-year-old girl and a four-year-old dog. To be candid, the dog wasn't all that gripped but my daughter and I loved this show.

It's not all that often that a TV programme earns that 'family viewing' tag without being a trifle bland. But Last Tango In Halifax has – despite a small amount of let's say 'naturalistic' language – done the trick. I shall be quite cross if you don't watch this one.

UPDATE 14/09/2012: The air-date of this programme has been postponed until later in the year.

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