sun 14/07/2024

Last Tango in Halifax, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Last Tango in Halifax, BBC One

Last Tango in Halifax, BBC One

Bertolucci meets Alan Bennett in Sally Wainwright's gentle generation game

As time goes by: Celia (Anne Reid) and Alan (Derek Jacobi) re-light their fire

The title says it all: Bertolucci’s landmark (if boring) French film has its last word changed from Paris to Halifax – where butter is only used for glazing parsnips. The very idea of Derek Jacobi taking Anne Reid up the scullery is enough to put anyone off their food but the two grandes dames of English theatre add class to the bittersweet romance of Sally Wainwright’s dog’s-dinner of a drama.

Jacobi plays Alan Buttershaw who was stood up by Celia Dawson 60 years ago – except he wasn’t. Celia moved to Sheffield and sent him an explanatory note via a friend called Eileen who destroyed it and married Alan herself. Half a century later – thanks to the facility of Facebook – they arrange a rendezvous in Skipton (geographically and thematically very close to Alan Bennett territory) and by the end of this first part have agreed to put right the ancient wrong and get hitched.

Their families, needless to say, don’t like it, and herein lies the real interest of Last Tango in Halifax. Wainwright’s CV includes At Home with the Braithwaites (the ups and downs of domesticity) and the cop saga Scott & Bailey (women beat men at their own game). Alan’s widowed daughter Gillian (the brilliant Nicola Walker) has casual sexual with a handsome chancer and worries about her son falling off his motorbike (which, of course, he does). Meanwhile, her deranged brother-in-law, a cop, thinks she killed her husband.

Celia’s daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire making the most of her northern vowels again) decides to take back her errant fool of a husband whose bit on the side turned out to be a boozer for the sake of her sons. In the best sequence, Gillian and Caroline (pictured above) are both shown walking down the aisle. Gillian works in a supermarket, while Caroline is the headmistress of a school – first seen be-gowned in the assembly hall – who coolly ends a Sapphic fling with another teacher when hubby crawls back with his tail still between his legs. Elsewhere, the direction falls back on the cliché that it’s grim up north. Shooting a comic car chase in winter doesn’t stop it resembling The Last of the Summer Wine and, as in DCI Banks, every shot of moorland has to have pylons marching across it.

As this might suggest, the biggest problem is the uncertainty of tone. First episodes are notoriously difficult, but how will the show develop? A murder mystery? A case of lesbian blackmail? Will the two tribes – the Buttershaws and Dawsons – go to war over the impending marriage? It’s Romeo and Juliet for the zimmer generation. This may explain why my parents, both in their seventies, enjoyed it far more than me (then they like New Tricks too). Perhaps they're the intended audience. That’s the trouble with including something for everyone – you end up disappointing most of them.

Will the Buttershaws and Dawsons go to war over the impending marriage? It’s 'Romeo and Juliet' for the zimmer generation

Explore topics

Share this article


Very, very similar to AS TIME GOES BY with Dame Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer .. BBC 1990s, which coincidentally I'm watching on You Tube. Although not a comedy, the premise f the storyline, right down to the undelivered letter was remarkable! How about some ORIGINAL drama?

Peter, I read an article once that said if one were to analyze TV drama scripts, one would find that there are really only six fundamental plot lines. All shows are various degrees of take-offs on those 6 formulas that have been proven to attract big audiences.

Its very warm and comforting, this show. Reid and Jacobi are outstanding of course. We love our old actors and we honour their talents by letting them entertain us. Lot of sillines and drama, yes. Also that one day everyone will love and be loved. The best dream ever.The best drama ever!

Last Tango in Halifax was great nice to see something new, I was waiting for it to come on every week now I see they are doing some more brill thanks alot

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a 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 gift subscription?


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