Last Tango in Halifax, BBC One | TV reviews, news & interviews
Last Tango in Halifax, BBC One
Bertolucci meets Alan Bennett in Sally Wainwright's gentle generation game
The title says it all: Bertolucci’s landmark (if boring) French film has its last word changed from Paris to Halifax – where butter is only used for glazing parsnips. The very idea of Derek Jacobi taking Anne Reid up the scullery is enough to put anyone off their food but the two grandes dames of English theatre add class to the bittersweet romance of Sally Wainwright’s dog’s-dinner of a drama.
Jacobi plays Alan Buttershaw who was stood up by Celia Dawson 60 years ago – except he wasn’t. Celia moved to Sheffield and sent him an explanatory note via a friend called Eileen who destroyed it and married Alan herself. Half a century later – thanks to the facility of Facebook – they arrange a rendezvous in Skipton (geographically and thematically very close to Alan Bennett territory) and by the end of this first part have agreed to put right the ancient wrong and get hitched.
Their families, needless to say, don’t like it, and herein lies the real interest of Last Tango in Halifax. Wainwright’s CV includes At Home with the Braithwaites (the ups and downs of domesticity) and the cop saga Scott & Bailey (women beat men at their own game). Alan’s widowed daughter Gillian (the brilliant Nicola Walker) has casual sexual with a handsome chancer and worries about her son falling off his motorbike (which, of course, he does). Meanwhile, her deranged brother-in-law, a cop, thinks she killed her husband.
Celia’s daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire making the most of her northern vowels again) decides to take back her errant fool of a husband whose bit on the side turned out to be a boozer for the sake of her sons. In the best sequence, Gillian and Caroline (pictured above) are both shown walking down the aisle. Gillian works in a supermarket, while Caroline is the headmistress of a school – first seen be-gowned in the assembly hall – who coolly ends a Sapphic fling with another teacher when hubby crawls back with his tail still between his legs. Elsewhere, the direction falls back on the cliché that it’s grim up north. Shooting a comic car chase in winter doesn’t stop it resembling The Last of the Summer Wine and, as in DCI Banks, every shot of moorland has to have pylons marching across it.
As this might suggest, the biggest problem is the uncertainty of tone. First episodes are notoriously difficult, but how will the show develop? A murder mystery? A case of lesbian blackmail? Will the two tribes – the Buttershaws and Dawsons – go to war over the impending marriage? It’s Romeo and Juliet for the zimmer generation. This may explain why my parents, both in their seventies, enjoyed it far more than me (then they like New Tricks too). Perhaps they're the intended audience. That’s the trouble with including something for everyone – you end up disappointing most of them.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Social comedy and sketch impressions
How Marianne North mastered the art of capturing nature
Hectic northern crime drama starring Lesley Sharp and Indira Varma lacks characters
A look back at recent events helps to get clarity, but not closure
Inspiring student pranks and political satire, Dada is the lifeblood of 20th century culture
Beloved entertainer helps the police with their inquiries
Forty years on: the accidental furore around Carl Andre's work remembered
A dark voyage through the heart of American law and order
Conservationists to the rescue of one of the world's most elusive animals
BBC Four documentary with too little time to examine a big subject
Richard Macer enters the elusive realm of frocks
Promising pilot of comedy about middle-class parenting