When it first started back in 2012, Last Tango in Halifax appeared to be a quaint Yorkshire-set love story between two characters in the twilight of their lives. Indeed Alan and Celia’s romance was the starting off point for the drama however Last Tango in Halifax quickly became about their respective daughters Gillian and Caroline. Last year’s second series was indeed a lot darker and ended with the revelation that Gillian had essentially killed her late husband. Although the series ended on a festive note, with Alan and Celia’s Christmas Eve vow renewal, it appears as if the combination of light and shade will continue during Last Tango’s third run.
One thing I did feel about this first episode was how the drama’s writer and creator Sally Wainwright appeared to be running out of ideas when it came to putting hurdles in the way of Alan and Celia’s happiness. As they continued to decide whether to buy a new house or to go off travelling; the couple’s blissful state appears to be shattered by the appearance of a mysterious stranger. The stranger in question is Gary who is first introduced to the show as Gillian’s date on Valentine’s Day but soon enough their meal together takes on an odd twist. It’s revealed that Gary tracked down Gillian after discovering that he was the product of an affair between Alan and his mother. Although it takes a while for Gillian to get her head around she later realises that there’s some truth to Gary’s allegations. Gillian’s decision to confide in Caroline before approaching Alan appears to be the wrong one and I feel that it will certainly be a bone of contention between the pair as the series progresses.
Although the Gary situation is presented as this series’ big new story I’m personally more interested in the relationships that Wainwright has already established between the characters. In particular Caroline’s relationship with Kate has always been one of Last Tango’s more interesting subplots and it looks to continue that way. The announcement of Caroline and Kate’s upcoming nuptials is met with a mixed response when the former’s family and friends are informed of the event. As we’ve already learnt, Celia is quite prejudiced when it comes to her daughter’s sexuality and only gives her acceptance begrudgingly. Meanwhile Gillian, who has had a rocky relationship with Caroline in the past, makes her own feeble excuses to why she and her family won’t be able to attend the event. Wainwright also looks set to explore how Caroline’s relationship will impact on her career as she takes an unruly pupil to task after he taunts her son with a homophobic insult. I’m really interested in how Wainwright will tackle this story going forward and I personally found it to be the most intriguing part of this opening episode.
I’ve long been a champion of Last Tango in Halifax and particularly enjoyed the darker second series. However, I wasn’t particularly taken with this first episode of series three with a lot of the secondary storylines appearing initially inconsequential. For example I didn’t think that the story concerning Harry’s trial for his houseboat discretion deserved the amount of screen time that was devoted to it. Similarly Caroline’s ex-husband John’s continued problems appear to be just another way of causing a divide between her and Kate. Though I’m a fan of Tony Gardener I feel that his character is surplus to requirements at this point and would much rather that Caroline and Kate’s issues came from somewhere other than her ex-husband. There’s also my aforementioned problem with the whole Gary situation as the whole idea of Alan having a love child does stretch the believability of the character. Whilst I realise I may be in the minority here, I don’t think the introduction of Gary really works and I found his inclusion in the series to be uncharacteristically poor decision by the usually reliable Wainwright. That being said, as I have faith in Wainwright’s writing, I will withhold my full judgement of the story for another episode or two.
One thing that hasn’t been lost in this new series is the naturalism of the dialogue; an element that is present throughout the work of Wainwright. Where the script excels in my opinion is whenever the characters are just engaged in menial discussions rather than talking about the drama’s bigger stories. A brilliant example of this is the opening scene in which Alan tells Celia a joke and the two burst out laughing, amusing the other diners at the restaurant in the process. The core characters also still feel intrinsically realistic which I think is why I feel it’s a problem when people like Gary are introduced solely as plot devices. Wainwright’s ability to make us care about her characters has always been one of her key strengths and I was personally hoping that Gillian and Caroline would both find happiness. But, due to their various predicaments, it appears as if these two stepsisters will be forced to deal with the fallout from Alan’s previous indiscretions.
It’s not just Wainwright’s scripting that makes me care about the characters though as all four of Last Tango’s principal players are fantastic throughout. Whoever decided that Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi would make the perfect couple deserves a medal as these two veteran performers still share winning chemistry. Reid is particularly great at bringing a certainly likeability to a character who could be perceived as very close-minded. Meanwhile I found that Jacobi tried his best to make Alan’s current situation as realistic as possible and his facial expressions upon discovering he had a long lost son were a particular highlight. Following her tour-de-force turn in Happy Valley, Sarah Lancashire proves that she and Wainwright are a formidable combination as she combines strength and vulnerability in her portrayal of Caroline. But for me, Nicola Walker steals the show as the complicated Gillian who is still dealing with a number of painful issues while at the same time attempting to take on even more grief thanks to keeping Gary’s presence a secret.
Perhaps it was due to my high expectations, but I didn’t enjoy this opening episode of Last Tango’s third series as much as I thought I would. Although the performances remain as great as ever; the new storylines introduced by Wainwright are at best a mixed bag. Thankfully, I have faith in Wainwright and I therefore believe that she will bring these new plots together in a satisfactory way. But for now at least I have to admit that I’m just a little underwhelmed with what I was presented with tonight.
What did you think to tonight’s episode of Last Tango in Halifax? Are you glad to have it back?
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