TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5 Episode 1

Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango in Halifax returns in fine form for its fifth series, making Sunday nights great again

“Some people like getting on a bus”

The churlish among us might have grumbled that they felt a little short-changed by the fourth series of Last Tango in Halifax only consisting of two episodes. Having had to wait over three years for the arrival of a fifth, I’m now just ecstatic it is back (with four episodes this time around).

And in the best way, it feels like it has never been away. Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid’s bickering married couple, Nicola Walker and Sarah Lancashire searching for self-sufficiency as their daughters, and associated friends and family members dipping in and out with their varied capers. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax, Series 5 Episode 1”

TV Review: Kiri

With a cast including Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, how could Kiri be anything but good

“Stick a flake in it before you try and sell it to the tabloids will you”

Airing on Channel 4 at the beginning of the year, Jack Thorne’s Kiri was billed as a continuation of his National Treasure brand  (I managed one episode of that first series…). But any fears I had of not liking it were assuaged by a cast led by Sarah Lancashire, Lucian Msamati and Lia Williams, plus this far down the line, I’d heard enough good things about it to finally get round to watching. 

Set in Bristol, Kiri follows the abduction of a young black girl – Kiri – in the foster care system, as she is allowed a meeting with her birth grandparents in advance of her adoption by a white middle-class family. Her social worker Miriam has arranged this unorthodox meeting and sure enough, the proverbial hits the fan when she gets a phone call to say she has gone missing. Continue reading “TV Review: Kiri”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 4

“You’re not going down South?” 

It’s hard not to be a little disappointed with the fact that Series 4 of Last Tango in Halifax consists of only two episodes. But when the drama is of this good a quality, you can’t begrudge Sally Wainwright taking her foot off the pedal here just a little (her Brontë Sister drama To Walk Invisible is also on over the festive period). And even with just 2 hours of television to play with, she still packs a lot in.
 
Still mourning the loss of Kate and adjusting to life as a single mother to Flora, Sarah Lancashire’s Caroline uproots her family to the rural outskirts of Huddersfield as she’s taken a new headship at a state school there. And newlywed Gillian is struggling with guilt of what she did to her new husband’s brother, to whom she was also married. Meanwhile, Alan and Celia are sucked into the world of am-dram.

Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 4”

TV Review: Last Tango In Halifax Series 3

“You can’t put a price on avoiding deep vein thrombosis”

I sat down to watch the new episodes of Last Tango in Halifax on the iPlayer but only as it started, did I realise that I had somehow neglected to watch Series 3 when it aired a couple of years ago. So having tracked it down, I indulged in a good old binge of quality Sally Wainwright drama. I loved Series 1 and Series 2 but in the final analysis, found this third season to be a little disappointing by comparison.

Since we’re more than two years down the line now, I think I can safely discuss the main reason for this – the killing-off of Nina Sosanya’s Kate in an unexpected incident of Dead Lesbian Syndrome. It was a high value example of the trope as well, considering it happened on the day after her wedding to Sarah Lancashire’s Caroline and whilst she was heavily pregnant with the child they intended to raise together. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango In Halifax Series 3”

TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2

“Yet another everyday story of country folk”

And so Series 2 of Happy Valley winds to a close and you have to hope that the people who acclaim Scandi-noir as the high point of today’s television recognise that this slice of Yorkshire-bleak is just as good, if not better. Sally Wainwright might have thrown some people for a loop by moving (even further) away from straight police procedural to something much more intimate and emotionally complex, placing Sarah Lancashire’s utterly magnificent portrayal of Sgt Catherine Cawood at its very heart. (My thoughts on episode 1 are here.)

“Omnipotent and ubiquitous, God I’m good” she wryly notes as a younger colleague drunkenly praises her at the end of a boozy evening and as the multiple strands of this series slowly began to converge, it was her presence that knitted the whole thing together. Wainwright’s closer hand on the tiller (directing four of the six episodes, all of which she wrote) allowed for some of the bolder moment to really shine, notably the two-handers that opened so many of the shows, a scorching stillness and quietude that underscored much of the horror of policing the Dales. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley Series 2”

TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1

“This is sheep-rustling, north-Halifax style – just the one sheep and three lads off their heads on acid”

One of the televisual highlights of 2014 was Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley, anchored by an astonishing central performance from Sarah Lancashire as pragmatic Yorkshire sergeant Catherine Cawood. So the return of a second series on BBC One is good news indeed, especially given Wainwright’s decision to also direct considerably more of the episodes this time round.

It’s obvious from the off that she is entirely at the top of her game. Reintroducing the startlingly mordant vein of humour on’t’moor, this opening sequence sees Cawood recounting a day’s work to her sister, namely sheep-rustling gone unfortunately wrong on a housing estate but leading to an even grimmer discovery, one which links directly back to James Norton’s Tommy Lee Royce, the father of her grandson after raping her daughter (who then committed suicide) and Catherine’s nemesis from the first series. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley, Series 2 Episode 1”

TV Review: Happy Valley

 
“Why would he do something like that? We’ve got caravans, we’ve got a games room that caters for people in wheelchairs”

My favourite thing about Happy Valley is actually the association the title has for me and my family – it was the name of the Chinese takeaway opposite my Aunty Jean’s house where we’d often get our Saturday tea. It’s a lovely fond memory that sits rather at odds with the realities of this recent TV series which I finally caught up with and which reunites what looks like becoming one of the best creative partnerships we have in the country – writer Sally Wainwright and actor Sarah Lancashire. Baftas all around I shouldn’t wonder.

The location may be similar to the rather more bucolic Last Tango in HalifaxHappy Valley is set in nearby Hebden Bridge – but we’re in a much grittier world of suburban disillusionment as this police drama takes in kidnap, rape and murder, all underscored by the pervasive influence of a spiralling drugs problem throughout the town. Wainwright being a more sophisticated writer than most though, ensures that her drama takes in the full breadth of the experience, examining the aftermath of the crimes just as much as the deeds themselves. Continue reading “TV Review: Happy Valley”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 2

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. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 2”

TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 1

“We’re not burglars, we’re pensioners”

Going to the theatre as much as I do means that there’s a limit to the number of TV shows that I can watch as they air and so I have to make choices. And opting not to watch Sally Wainwright’s Last Tango to Halifax was one of the poorer decisions of recent times as I soon found out from the rapturous reception from many around me. But lucky boy that I am, the DVD of the show was one of my birthday presents and so I was able to binge on the six episodes over a weekend.

And of course it justified its Best Drama Series BAFTA within its opening minutes and completely entranced me with its world-beating quality and utter classiness. Its main premise is the reconnection between childhood sweethearts Alan and Celia who are now both widowed, in their 70s and just discovering the joys of Facebook. When their IT-literate grandchildren engineer a meeting between the pair, the old flame splutters back into life and we follow the gorgeously sensitive and romantic road that they tread to try and recapture that youthful happiness. Continue reading “TV Review: Last Tango in Halifax Series 1”