After a couple of weeks with nothing much to talk about, the last seven days have given us plenty of top TV and with that said let’s get started.
We kick off with a drama that attempts to show older characters in a more positive light as Sally Wainwright guides us through Last Tango in Halifax. The drama starts by informing us that old flames Alan and Celia, played with plenty of charm by Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi, have reconnected with each other on Facebook. Despite Celia initially telling Alan that she thought he was someone else eventually she reveals that she has been in love with him for sixty years. As the two reminisce over a coffee it transpires that Alan’s late wife didn’t give him a note from Celia which contained details of her new address. Just as the pair are bonding Alan discovers his car has been stolen so Celia offers him a lift home however on the way they spot Alan’s car and decide to participate in a chase of sorts. However this chase ends with Celia smashing into Alan’s car which means both of them are then without transport. As they wait for their respective daughters to pick them up, they realise they are madly in love with one another and when their families arrive they announce they are getting married. As we learn throughout though they’re respective families have a lot more problems than they first thought. Celia’s daughter Caroline is the emotionally repressed headmistress of a well-respected private school who has a myriad of personal problems. Caroline’s husband has recently been cheating however she has decided to allow him to come back home for the good of their sons. However it seems as if Caroline has been exploring her own sexuality by embarking on an affair with one of her female teachers. Meanwhile Alan’s daughter Gillian also has issues stemming from the mysterious death of her alcoholic husband with whom she had a son. Gillian’s emotional state means that she often engages in relationships with unsuitable men including the cocky Paul. Obviously when Gillian and Caroline met for the first time sparks flew meaning that their parents’ impending marriage wasn’t the best news.
Though some snootier critics will probably criticise Last Tango in Halifax for being too quaint, I personally really enjoyed it. Wainwright has created a cast full or rich, warm characters who I feel I now know after watching just the first element. Her two leads, who are both well into their seventies, portray old age in a positive light as they are both witty, wise and full of life. 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. The ensemble cast is also brilliant with Derek Jacobi shaking off his Shakespearian actor persona to play a Down-to-Earth Yorkshire chap. Anne Reid meanwhile plays a much more stoic character however as the drama goes on she is also able to show a bit more of a wild side to the lovely Celia. Jacobi and Reid have a brilliant on-screen chemistry which is one of the elements that makes Last Tango in Halifax worth watching. Sarah Lancashire is also brilliant as Caroline the strong yet fragile authority figure who always puts others first. Meanwhile Nicole Walker excels as Gillian the country girl with a tragic past which has impacted on all her current relationships. The sweeping shots of the Yorkshire scenery may be a little bit twee but still add a certain charm to the drama and give it a sense of place. Overall Last Tango in Halifax is a well-written, brilliantly acted drama with believable fully-rounded characters and I feel it’s the last of a dying breed.
For people wanting something a bit less cosy from their drama, The Secret of Crickley Hall may be right up their street. Crickley Hall stars Suranne Jones as Londoner Eve Caleigh whose life falls apart when her son Cam goes missing. Eleven months later, Cam is still missing and Eve’s husband Gabe thinks the best thing to do is to move to a small country village and live in the creepy house of the title. As we learn via flashback Crickley Hall was once a wartime orphanage overseen by the tyrannical Augustus Cribbin and his sister Magda. These flashbacks document the arrival of kindly teacher Nancy who takes a shine to Jewish German student Stefan Rosenbaum. However Augustus doesn’t believe that Stefan should be forgiven for the sins of his people and therefore Nancy’s quest to bring the Cribbins down probably won’t end well. Meanwhile in the present Eve’s daughters both feel a ghostly presence with elder daughter Lauren being caned by Augustus in her sleep following an altercation with some school bullies while younger daughter Cally notices children playing on the stairs. At the end of the first episode Eve admits there are ghosts present in her new home but wants to stay as she believes these ghosts know what happened to Cam. What I liked most about Crickley Hall was how writer/director Joe Ahearne was able to interweave the central ghost story with a narrative about a mother losing her son. Every classic horror element is present here from he unexplained noises to the creepy children’s toy but somehow none of them feel clichéd. I personally thought the modern day scenes were where Crickley Hall was at its strongest however I felt the scenes from the 1940s lacked the same drive. I just didn’t really care about what happened to the young German boy and thought teacher Nancy was a little bit wet. Indeed the only thing that these 1940s scenes had going for them were Douglas Henshall’s scenery-chewing performance as the terrifying Augustus. Talking of the cast, Suranne Jones is great as the harrassed mother trying to cope with losing her son while Miranda’s Tom Ellis easily portrays her everyman husband. The one thing I don’t understand about the scheduling of Crickley Hall is why it wasn’t shown over Halloween and instead left until the beginning of winter. Every spooky moments screams Halloween viewing and I feel the BBC missed a trick not scheduling a few weeks ago. That criticism aside there was a lot to like about Crickley Hall namely the old-school haunted house vibe and the performances from Jones and Henshall. Most importantly though the story had enough intrigue to make me want to tune in for the final two episodes of what I consider to be a very competent ghostly tale.
A few laughs now courtesy of the return of BBC3′s superb sitcom Him and Her. For those who have never seen it before it essentially follows the daily exploits of couple Steve and Becky and is set entirely in their decrepit bedsit. The other central characters are Becky’s horrid sister Laura, who is now pregnant, and her idiot fiancée Paul who doesn’t really seem to like her most of the time. There’s also weird hairy upstairs neighbour Dan who has recently started secretly courting Laura’s tarty friend Shelly. This episode seems to be based entirely around the fact that Steve is planning to propose to Becky however cannot find the right moment to do so. This is partly because Becky is hungover and partly because they are constantly interrupted by Laura and Paul who are intent on them all going on a picnic together. At the end of the episode all of the characters know of Steve’s plan bar Becky herself and I have a feeling that it will take a whole series for Steve to actually propose. The beauty of Him and Her is mainly due to the believability of the characters which can be attributed to the brilliant writing of Stefan Golaszewksi. I’m sure everybody would be able to identify with Becky’s horrible hangover and how annoying it is when people keep talking to you when all you want to do is sleep or throw up. In essence Him and Her is like a mini-play with the camera fixed on a certain point in the bedist sometimes not focusing on the majority of the characters. As Steve and Becky, Sarah Solemani and Russell Tovey share brilliant chemistry and you can completely buy them as a couple. I also love Joe Wilkinson as the weird Dan and Ricky Champ as the excitable Paul. The only part of this first episode that I didn’t really like was the introduction of two of Steve and Becky’s neighbours who have previously had some sort of relationship. I feel that we have plenty of characters already without more of them being added to the mix. Ultimately though Him and Her is back with a vengeance as it introduces a series-long storyline about Steve’s wish to propose. Him and Her is one of the best-written and brilliantly acted British sitcoms around which begs the question, why is it still hiding away on BBC3?
Finally The Killing returned to BBC4 for what at the moment seems to be Sarah Lund’s last stand. This is a different Lund to the one who we met at the end of the second series of The Killing. She seems to be a lot more ordered and is currently applying for a desk job as she is fed up of letting her work take over her life. However before she can go she has to solve one last murder that of a body found at the docks that has been picked up by an operating cane. Lund is also assigned a new babyface protege in the form of Asbjorn Juncker who fails to make a great first impression on our prickly protagonist. As the case gains steam it also engulfs the campaign of the serving Prime Minister while in addition implicating shipping giant Zeeland in the murder. These high profile clients mean that special branch soon get involved and sent in Mathias Borch an old police academy acquaintance of Sarah’s. The partnership between Lund and Borch seems to be one that hasn’t always been purely professional and there seems to be a personal backstory lurking in the shadows. After almost a full episode of not wanting to get involved, Lund’s investigative side finally breaks out when she notices something interesting about the tattoos found on the dead man. The episode ends with the kidnapping of Emilie the daughter of Zeeland’s head honcho Robert Zeuthen an action which must link in with Sarah’s investigation in some way. Initially I found this first episode of the final Killing series hard to get into thanks to a new-look Sarah Lund and a bunch of new characters. However once her instincts kick back in she’s easily able to connect the dots between Zeuthen’s daughter and the initial killing. The direction is as stylistic and moody which is best witnessed on the two scenes on the ghostly Medea and in the final few minutes of the episode after everyone discovers that Emilie has disappeared. I love how this final series also deals with Sarah’s past regrets both the loss of contact with her estranged son and her past relationship with Borch. At the moment there’s no telling how Lund’s story will actually end but once again I’m intrigued enough to go along with her on one last ride.
Next Time: Peep Show and An Idiot Abroad