Last Tango in Halifax – Series 2, Episode 6

Lina Talbot

Spohalifax 300x168 Last Tango in Halifax – Series 2, Episode 6iler alert: this review assumes you have already watched the last episode of the current series

This year many will have looked forward to a cosy hour on Christmas Eve watching the last Last Tango of the series. These well-polished characters of writer Sally Wainwright we now know better than our own neighbours, with the advantage of it being easier to forgive them for their little slips and weaknesses.

The fan following has meant there will be another series, which may be to blame for the story becoming somewhat thin. This is an enjoyable “tie up loose ends” episode… but some of us may have hoped for more.

Outside the church at the top of the hill, Derek Jacobi’s endearing Alan starts the confessions rolling – confiding in daughter Gillian, however, rather than in his wife Celia. I don’t buy his story about the tenants though, preferring to believe he wants to spend equal time with his Halifax and Harrogate families. Yes, I now identify with him so well I’m actually rewriting his part… As a sociable man, Alan would not wish to live in a solitary eyrie above the Yorkshire vales – however glorious the view.

A view echoed this week by that from the churchyard. Unfortunately the rows of gaily coloured flowers, and the contrived petal falling into Alan’s hand, distract from the poignancy of this key moment where both father and daughter say goodbye to their past spouses in very different ways.

Celia’s past spouse is on her mind too. We have seen how her instinctively reactionary character usually criticises some novel idea before she fully understands it, which hides how weak and vulnerable she really is. But at the hen night, the presence of her sister and the odd glass of vino bring her to confess how miserable her life has been. Anne Reid shows this vulnerability for brief seconds, before putting Celia’s brave face back on.

At least Alan’s patient indulgence does succeed in changing her mind about some things – this week she’s preparing coffee from the galley on Harry’s “mucky” narrow boat. And her lack of insight allows her to function as a “deus ex machina”: she’s the one who invites Kate to the wedding and so gives the Kate-Caroline relationship a needed stir.

Sadly, slouchy John (Tony Gardner) remains uninvited to the pub on the stag night, so cannot be saved from the despair of spending Christmas with a bottle and a drunken paramour. Instead, we enjoy the quite moving scene when Alan, showing his true feelings for daughter Gillian, puts in a strong and honest word for her to sympathetic cop Robbie (Dean Andrews). Seconded, surprisingly, by his grandson Raff, again acting mature beyond his years. Josh Bolt’s Raff has a tendency to steal the scene, here when empathising with Robbie, and later reflecting on the surprise wedding performance.

Sarah Lancashire’s Caroline continues in subdued mode. She is sensitive and understanding towards Gillian for her past transgression, though her advice may come across as that of a headmistress. And she manages to find the guts to ask Kate for a second chance. But her response to Kate’s: “Have a nice Christmas” – “How likely is that?” – comes straight from the wounded heart. Her clunky, uncertain demeanour contrasts meaningfully with Nina Sosanya’s beautiful receptive stillness as the pregnant Kate.

And so to the wedding. Alan and Celia, sweethearts reunited after 50 years, exchange their vows in a simple yet touching ceremony, causing certain onlookers to reflect on their own partners past and present. Later in the magnificent wood-panelled dining hall of Holdsworth House, the speeches follow the usual plan until – surprise surprise – the groom gathers his assistants for an entertaining and imaginative song and dance routine. Well done all five performers, and Wainwright for providing the future bridegrooms with such a template to “show” how they feel. Derek Jacobi clearly enjoys breaking through his bluff Northerner confines to delight us as an American country singer.

There remains Nicola Walker’s needy yet strong Gillian – ever difficult, though still a rewarding challenge to her dad, to Robbie, and to viewers. Why should she look so troubled as she wakes to see Robbie by her side? The way she blows hot and cold – she really should have her thyroid checked…

Although happily watching this saga weave its way through to the reconciliation of Kate and Caroline, and to Gillian winning back the one solid man in her life, I can’t help feeling disappointed… Nothing happens that isn’t more or less expected. No twist – not even an intervening subplot that might put the marriage ceremony at risk, for example.

Three mini-series have been shown by the main channels this year based around realistic, next-door-neighbour characters – Broadchurch, What Remains and The Guilty. I fear the last two were too short and easily forgotten, but the length of time spent with the Broadchurch characters, plus a mystery that many comment columns were devoted to solving, lent it more impact. How viewers like myself long to be involved with stories that twist and go backwards and sideways, over the course of eight or more episodes.

Nevertheless, Last Tango in Halifax has, like Broadchurch, earned itself another series here as well as a US adaptation. Diane Keaton, 67 years old herself, has bought the rights, and I will be fascinated to see if she introduces more story elements around the clearly winning premise of two old schoolfriends, now single grandparents, meeting and falling in love again. Forgive my passing on the following comment on this prospect from the other side of the pond: “We have talent in that age category, but American women don’t look their age.”

Women of the UK – are we to be defined by our age and natural born looks? If we do not label ourselves pensioners or septuagenarians… then others should also realise we are no more and no less than women with places to go and things to do, and a late romance may be one of them.

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  • greggf

    “….I can’t help feeling disappointed… Nothing happens that isn’t more or less expected.”

    Yes, I thought that too Lina.
    It might sound a bit churlish, but an unexpected turn might have added to the anticipation for the next series. I mean, it didn’t hurt those Danish Killings!

  • Alexander42A

    Just like with “The Paradise”, the second time round a lot of the magic, sparkle and interest had gone. The last episode was too trite for my liking, with a silly attempt at playing “Happy Families” together. The two dysfunctional families on which this series was based should have remained true to themselves. Kitsch and treacle and heavy sentiment do not flow quite so convincingly from Sally Wainwright’s pen.

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