sun 16/06/2019

Years and Years, BBC One review - ambitious but amorphous | reviews, news & interviews

Years and Years, BBC One review - ambitious but amorphous

Years and Years, BBC One review - ambitious but amorphous

New Russell T Davies drama may be trying on too many hats at once

The Lyons enjoy some appointment-to-view TV

As the double-edged Chinese proverb has it, “may you live in interesting times.” Screenwriter Russell T Davies evidently thanks that’s exactly where we’re at, and his new six-part drama Years and Years (BBC One) is a bold, sprawling but – as far as episode one is concerned at least – amorphous attempt to assess the state of play.

From Queer as Folk to Doctor Who and Cucumber, Davies’s favourite themes have included LGBT issues, science fiction, left-ish politics and a fondness for soaps. All of them reappear here (although sadly, the caustic humour and searing dramatic focus he brought to A Very English Scandal doesn’t), within a framework which pays lip service to conventional domestic drama. The story centres around the Lyons family, but over its six episodes will expand in all directions as it leaps forward in time by 15 years.

Life with the Lyons is like an exploded diagram of technological trends and the changing face of British “identity”. Mixed-race couple Stephen and Celeste (Rory Kinnear and T’Nia Miller) are parents of painfully introverted daughter Bethany (Lydia West), who will only talk to her parents thorough a holographic face-mask. Her parents think she’s transgender, only for Bethany to declare herself “transhuman” and keen to upload her disembodied consciousness into the Cloud. As though competing in an Olympiad of woke-ness, Davies has given Stephen a gay younger brother, Daniel (Russell Tovey), a sister, Rosie, with spina bifida (Ruth Madeley), and another sister, Edith (Jessica Hynes) who's a political activist.

In school, children are taught about pornography (under the newspeak title “sexual awareness imaging control”). Meanwhile in the wider world, Russia has annexed the Ukraine, prompting a flood of refugees to Britain, and the Chinese are locking horns with the USA, with a crucial flashpoint looming over a disputed island in the South China Sea called Hong Sha Dao. In 2020, Donald Trump is re-elected as President.

Emma Thompson in Years and YearsIf there’s a unifying theme, it’s a sense of a civilisation unravelling and a disintegration of all the things that people used to feel held them together. Stephen had a monologue about how having thought all the finest thoughts and reached a pinnacle of creativity, mankind had now gone into reverse. This echoed the entrepreneur-turned-politician Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson, pictured above, armed with a Mancunian accent), whose appearance on Question Time on the Lyons’ living room TV set the scene for this opening episode. “I just don’t understand the world any more,” she lamented. Quizzed about the Israel and Palestine conflict, she retorted that “I don’t give a fuck” (cue uproar in the studio) – she just wanted her bins emptied and the streets swept clean and to be allowed to speak her mind. It looks as if Rook is going to evolve into some sort of political demagogue, leading her own Four Star party.

Perhaps people just want to be citizens of somewhere after all, but with Davies suggesting a nuclear war heading over the horizon in 2024, there might not be any “somewhere” left. There’s plenty to think about here, but so far I’m not convinced it’s great drama.

It's like an exploded diagram of technological trends and the changing face of British 'identity'

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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“Mixed-race couple Stephen and Celeste (Rory Kinnear and T’Nia Miller) are parents of gay son Daniel (Russell Tovey) ...” This needs correcting. The Kinnear and Tovey characters are brothers. Also “taut” has nothing to do with teaching.

Thanks for that, Reader. Adjustments have been made.

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