Last Tango in Halifax: Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi shine in this old-fashioned and warm-hearted romantic drama

by Matt D

It’s fair to say that 2012 has been a splendid year for drama with shows as diverse as The Bridge, Game of Thrones and Line of Duty all captivating audiences and winning plaudits from the critics. The one thing these dramas all have in common though is the amount of violence, and to a lesser extent swearing, that they rely upon to tell their stories however those who aren’t fans of that sort of content have to watch frilly costume dramas instead. Thankfully this week an alternative is presented in Last Tango in Halifax written by Sally Wainwright, who recently won an award for penning the excellent Scott and Bailey, which creates drama through its warm and realistic characters.

Last Tango in Halifax kicks off with old acquaintances Celia Dawson and Alan Buttershaw announcing to their bemused families that they’d begun writing to each other after their respective grandsons introduced them to Facebook. Though initially Celia claims not to remember exactly who Alan is he has fond memories of her, who grew up on the street next to his, and remembers that he asked her out on date but she stood him up. Alan invites Celia for a coffee a request she considers turning down but eventually agrees to meet him in Skipton and when they meet she admits to recognising him straight away. When Alan goes to pay the parking for his car he discovers it’s been stolen so Celia offers to drive him home however on the way they see Alan’s cars and attempt to chase the joyriders with Celia eventually smashing into the back of Alan’s car.

As the pair wait to be picked up they enjoy dinner where they find out that Celia gave her friend a note to inform Alan of her new address but he never got this information mainly because Celia’s friend wanted Alan for herself and eventually became his wife. Celia also admits that she’d been waiting for Alan to ask her out for years and when he did it was too late so eventually they both married other people but neither were ever truly in love. When their respective daughters arrive at the pub, quarrelling over parking as they come in, Celia and Alan reveal they’re not going to let time get the best of them and are getting married.

The only problem here is that their families are very different as Last Tango in Halifax also follows Celia and Alan’s respective daughters and the problems they encounter. Celia’s family are well-to-do while her well-educated daughter Caroline has a respectable job as a headmistress at a fancy school. Caroline’s life is anything but fancy as her philandering husband arrives at her home wanting a reconciliation which she agrees to mainly so her two sons can have him back in the house. Caroline though had used her separation to explore another side to her sexuality and it appears as if she had been enjoying a lesbian affair with one of her teachers which she now has to put a stop to with the return of her husband. Alan’s family meanwhile live on the farm originally run by his daughter Gillian’s late husband who left her in so much debt she know has to subsidise her income by working on the tobacco kiosk at a supermarket.

Gillian’s personal life is also put under the spotlight as we are led to believe that she has had an affair with a younger man while at the same time there are questions about how her husband actually died. Gillian is also unhappy with the amount of time that her son Raff is spending with his uncle Robbie who she believes to be a bad influence a belief which is warranted when Raff ends up in hospital.

I feel that some snootier critics will mock Last Tango in Halifax for being too old-fashioned and stuck in the past but I enjoyed it from beginning to end thanks to the warmth of Wainright’s script. I would normally turn my nose up to a programme which had lots of sumptuous shots of the Yorkshire countryside however it works in Last Tango and plays into the story of Alan and his family. From one episode alone I felt I knew all four of the central characters and what point they’d reached in their life when we first we met them and this is a feat not all dramas can pull off. As Celia, Anne Reid played a stoic character who’d thought she’d finished her life and was content in her role as mother and grandmother now that her husband had passed away. Jacobi meanwhile casts off his Shakespearian actor persona to play a down-to-Earth Yorkshire farm lad who is also happy with his lot in life but also seems to crave more. The two enjoy such a great chemistry that you really believe that they are each other’s lost loves who haven’t set eyes on each other for the last sixty years.

The other element I liked about Last Tango was that it put two seventy year olds as the central couple, a rarity in modern dramas, and these seventy year olds are also still witty, thoughtful folks who haven’t succumb to old age just yet. In fact the older characters here are almost the stable force as their children struggle to put their complicated personal lives in order and try to do the best by their sons. Sarah Lancashire continues to play the strong yet fragile authority figure she perfected in The Paradise here playing a traditional wife who is now struggling with her sexuality. The brilliant Ruth Walker is also utterly believable as this country girl whose tragic marriage has caused her to become withdrawn and enter into relationships with unsuitable younger men.In addition Last Tango in Halifax benefits from having a great supporting cast of familiar faces including Tony Gardner, Dean Andrews and Nina Sosanya all of whom add an extra dimension to the drama.

While Last Tango in Halifax may not be in my top ten programmes of 2012 it’s still an accomplished piece of work and is a rare example of a drama that the whole family can watch together. Wainwright’s drama won’t win any prizes for originality but its strength is in portraying pensioners in a positive light by showing that they are still as smart and funny as their younger counterparts. The cast are amazing and really make you believe in their characters while Wainwright proves once again why she’s one of this country’s best TV writers. More than anything though Last Tango in Halifax made me want more old-fashioned dramas like this which rely on characters to tell the story rather than an overuse of extreme violence.

What did you think to Last Tango in Halifax? Would you like to see more dramas like this? Leave Your Comments Below.


  1. Julia Middleton on November 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Absolutely loved it, grew up in Yorkshire, so very familiar to me. Great cat, beautifully written. What’s not to like?!!

  2. Julia Middleton on November 20, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Great CAST !!!

  3. Pepe Low on November 21, 2012 at 12:45 am

    The name is NICOLA Walker, not RUTH Walker! Would appreciate it if you could make a correction to an otherwise brilliant review. 🙂

  4. joe brooks on November 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Pity that Hebden Bridge doubled for Skipton for the cafe rendezvous and yet the car chase was actually done in Skipton.

  5. karen burr on December 20, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Fantastic series so glad there is going to be another series. So unusual to have happy ending for a gay couple warmed my heart.

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