wed 21/08/2019

Years and Years, Episode 5, BBC One review - darker and darker | reviews, news & interviews

Years and Years, Episode 5, BBC One review - darker and darker

Years and Years, Episode 5, BBC One review - darker and darker

Soap opera family finds itself trapped in doomsday scenario

Prime Minister Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson) and her Four Star party

Does every generation suffer its own form of doomsday paranoia? In Stephen Poliakoff’s BBC Two drama Summer of Rockets, it’s the late 1950s and everybody’s convinced they’re about to perish in a nuclear holocaust. In this penultimate episode of Russell T Davies’s Years and Years (BBC One), the near-ish future was being sucked into a hideous vortex of Biblical plagues (power blackouts and 80 days of rain), terrorist bombings and a global wave of fascistic governments.

Davies is an ingenious weaver of narrative spells, and as the series peaks he’s escalating the shocks and terrifying revelations. Last week brought Danny Lyons’s tragic attempt to rescue his lover Viktor from stateless limbo in Spain, prompting a disastrous Channel crossing which left 17 bodies washed up on the English coast. One of them was Danny’s.

The event has cast a pall of misery over the Lyons clan. Originally they looked like Britain’s most right-on soap opera family, covering a fashionably inclusive range of sexual orientations, disabilities and political attitudes, but it’s all falling apart now. Stephen (Rory Kinnear), having suffered public humiliation over his affair with Elaine (Rachel Logan), who he doesn’t even like very much, has become a grovelling yes-man to the entrepreneur Woody (Kieran O’Brien), who’s like a cartoon asset-stripper left over from the 1980s. Jonjo and Fiona’s relationship has been blossoming, but their mobile snack bar project has been derailed by draconian legislation which has left them imprisoned in a Criminal Zone. Bethany (Lydia West) is delighted that she’s been converted into a cyber-human with built-in web access, but her father Stephen despairs that she’s now a state-controlled electronic tool.

Davies’s intentions are partly satirical, with his riffs on “fake news” or Russian conspiracies, but darkness is closing in. If it might once have seemed that Years and Years was merely another lament about Brexit, it has developed into something more like the end-of-days visions of Hieronymus Bosch. Both rich and poor are now locked into their own secured estates. Galloping technological advances make it possible for families to hold instant networked conferences or (for instance) for grandma Muriel (Anne Reid, pictured above) to have a miracle cure (at a price) for her failing eyesight, but has also brought the breath-test ID system and other repressive forms of social control.

The stakes keep spiralling higher. While Edith (Jessica Hynes) investigated rumours about the “disappeared” people known as “erstwhiles”, Stephen went one better – he was in the room when manic Prime Minister Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson) spelled out plans for genocide. The most damning part of it was that Stephen saw this as his opportunity for personal vengeance. The final episode ought to make interesting viewing.

It has developed into something like the end-of-days visions of Hieronymus Bosch

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Comments

How spoiler-laden can you get? I have so admired the episodes I've seen of this excellently cast and scripted series, but clearly it's going to be too disturbing to carry on watching. Every good dystopian fiction needs to be rooted in the fears of the presence, and I realise from what you've written that I'd have nightmares if I continued.

Add comment

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 £3.95 per month or £30 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?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters