Only the English could produce a gentle love story between two pensioners falling in love again after nearly forty years but still include sub plots about suicide, alcoholism and whether your parents regret the relationship that produced you in the first place.
What also makes it feel so homely is that every face looks familiar, to the extent that watching the programme turns into a sort of memory test:
“That’s what’s-her-name from Spooks. The nice one.”
“Isn’t that the dad from My Parents Are Aliens?”
It’s one of those BBC programmes where half way through you realise that all of the cast have probably been in Doctor Who at some point or another, not to mention Eastenders.
Despite- or possibly because of- this, I can’t tell you what any of the characters in Last Tango In Halifax are called. I know British veterans Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid are playing the lovers and Nicola Walker and Sarah Lancashire are playing their daughters. But their names? Who knows.
This means that the actors turn back into characters you remember them playing in previous shows. Nicola Walker’s character is just a Yorkshire version of Ruth from Spooks. Dean Andrews’ Robbie (one of the few character names I can remember) is basically Ray Carling from Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes. When he turns up driving a police car in episode two you’re hardly surprised.
Then I realised I was making an issue out of nothing. Not remembering a character’s name doesn’t mean the script is poor or the casting ineffective. None of the examples I gave above are bad characters, at worst they are good actors in typecast roles. It doesn’t get in the way of enjoying the programme.
However having said that, one character who does reduce my enjoyment is Sarah Lancashire’s Caroline (I had to check the name on IMDB, of course). I think the audience is meant to be sympathetic towards her as she tries to balance the difficulty of a demanding job, a divorce, single motherhood and possible lesbianism, but she simply isn’t likable.
The cold way she dumps Nina and the scene in episode one that shows Caroline and Nicola Walker’s characters preparing for the working day combine to show that Caroline has everything and yet is still complaining.
Thankfully, the other characters are much more appealing. You end up liking them and hoping that everything works out in the end – even if it does feel like some twists are so heavily foreshadowed that the director might as well write them on the side of the Yorkshire dales in fifty foot high letters.
Last Tango in Halifax is a decent bit of TV. The comedy is funny (the car chase in episode one in particular) – and the drama dramatic. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to settle down on a winter’s night to some very English telly. Don’t bother trying to learn any names though.