Believe it or not it was July when I woke up early on a weekday morning and sauntered across London to a swanky Hotel to preview the opening episode of BBC1’s “comedy drama” Last Tango in Halifax. The six-part series, written by Sally Wainwright and loosely based on her mother’s later life and starring Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi as two old friends who find love after meeting up on Facebook. The premise was an interesting one and as I sat in a reception room trying not to cover myself in sugar from the shortbread the Hotel/the BBC had provided I was really looking forward to seeing it.
Just as I finished my sugary treat I spotted the lovely Anne Reid (who steals the show as Celia) in the corner of the room. Do I talk to her or not? Before I had the chance to think of something witty and interesting to say she was heading for me and we chatted about the website and how excited I was about seeing the show. To be honest I was so chuffed with my celebrity moment I would have happily gone home at that point but as we were ushered into the screening room to watch the first episode the best was yet to come.
The term “comedy drama” is over used and often means a drama that never quite gets very dramatic or a comedy that just barely raises a smile. There’s always an exception to the rule and I’m glad to announce it’s the brilliant Last Tango in Halifax. From the opening scene I knew Last Tango was special. As with all of Wainwright’s work the dialogue is absolutely spot on. The story moves quickly as we’re introduced to Celia (Anne Reid) and daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire), the two are sat in a beautifully lit café as Celia tells her bemused daughter that she’s found an old friend on Facebook who she can’t place. We then switch to a rural Farm where Alan (the equally brilliant Derek Jacobi) tells his daughter Gillian (Nicola Walker) more about Celia and how the two had been close before he met his wife. In these short opening scenes I felt immediately connected to the two main characters and their respective families and completely drawn into their lives. A lesser writer would’ve needed to spend far longer on these exposition scenes, introducing each character slowly but Wainwright does it with such ease that you feel you’ve known the characters for years.
When Alan and Celia do eventually meet up for a coffee the chemistry is there immediately. I cannot stress how wonderfully natural and funny Reid and Jacobi are in the lead roles. They make it seem effortless. Aside from the natural chemistry, funny dialogue and top notch performances the best thing about Last Tango is that everyone has something to do. There’s no doubting this is a superb cast and everyone has a storyline of their own. Sarah Lancashire is brilliant as Celia’s daughter who is Headteacher at a local school, having a relationship with one of her staff and having to deal with her dead beat husband (Tony Gardner) returning to the family home after leaving her several months previously. Nicola Walker is equally wonderful as Alan’s daughter Gillian who works in a supermarket, rows with her menacing brother-in-law and deals with the mystery surrounding her husband’s death. There’s so much going here but it never feels complicated, overly packed or unnecessary.
There’s a wonderful scene where Celia and Alan end up in a car chase and a touching scene where Alan reveals his true feelings for Celia that he’s kept to himself since they met all those years ago. Fear not though, even the touching scenes are dealt with with the amount of sentimentality without coming across as cheesy. The two families around Alan and Celia are from completely backgrounds and the two daughters but heads immediately which, like everything else here is masterfully handled.
The title may make it sound a bit like a revamped version of Last of the Summer Wine but in my opinion, Last Tango in Halifax is a real gem and possibly my favourite new drama of 2012. It’s been messed about the schedule, originally due after the Olympics, then in early October and now in mid November. It’s great that audiences will finally see the series that everyone who attended that screening on a balmy July morning loved but my biggest concern is that it won’t get the attention it deserves as it battles with late night Christmas shopping and the return of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!
Those who tune in though are in for a real treat. There’s nothing not to like about Last Tango. The writing is brilliant, the cast are beautifully suited to each role and you believe everything about it. If it takes off as much as I hope it does then Sally Wainwright revealed to me that she’s got tons of stories lined up for a second series and, although it’s jumping the gun at this early stage, I really hope we see more of this fantastic series.
Last Tango in Halifax begins Tuesday 20th November at 9.00pm on BBC1