“If she’s sat through King Lear, she’ll want to lie down”
Series 1 of Last Tango in Halifax really was a piece of great British television and so it was most gratifying to see it receive critical and commercial acclaim and thus be recommissioned for a second series. And clearly conscious of what made it such a success first time round, Sally Wainwright hasn’t changed much at all, especially not the quality of her writing, or the show’s (sadly) remarkable focus on the older generations.
We left Series 1 with (almost) childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia reunited at his hospital bed after her homophobia and his heart attack but moving swiftly on, the focus of this new set of six episodes subtly shifted towards their daughters – Sarah Lancashire’s somewhat prim Caroline and Nicola Walker’s earthy Gillian. And the show really benefitted from this I think, these two superb actresses relishing the richly complex characterisations of two richly complex women.
Caroline’s struggle to embrace the realities of being with her new partner (Nina Sosanya’s warm Kate) whilst extricating herself from the tangled mess of her marriage to feckless John (a excellently hangdog Tony Gardner) was well done, proving that it isn’t always easy to be honest about one’s sexuality no matter one’s age. And Walker is heartbreakingly brilliant as the brusque Gillian, so tough in some ways yet unbearably fragile in others and forever putting her boot in it.
Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi’s always touching relationship remained a delight to behold as they negotiated the trials facing any couple who want to get wed – big ceremony or elopement, who to invite, where to live, and Celia’s dialogue rivals Maggie Smith’s in Downton Abbey for its delicious cutting humour – Shakespeare got it in the neck more than once, Wainwright clearly has issues with the Bard!
It’s an unapologetically British show, the gorgeous shots of the Yorkshire landscape are almost another character in the show and the way in which tragedy and comedy are such close bedfellows feels entirely appropriate. The direction took on a little innovation with some use of mini flashbacks in the storytelling to keep things fresh but with a cast like this, it is hardly needed. The news that a third series is on its way is as good a Christmas present as any.