Judge Jason Panella's last tango was in Nova Scotia. He's shooting for Casper, Wyoming next.
A second chance at first love.
With a bland package synopsis and a DVD cover that screams "Hallmark special," Last Tango in Halifax sets itself up to be one kind of show. Thankfully it's not that kind of show.
Facts of the Case
Alan (Derek Jacobi, Cadfael) and Celia (Anne Reid, Hot Fuzz) are both widowed and in their 70s. They were sweethearts once, when they were teenagers, but haven't seen each other in the 60 years since. Alan lives with his daughter Gillian (Nicola Walker, MI-5) and her son on a farm in northern England. Celia lives with her wealthy daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire, The Paradise) and her children. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, Alan and Celia bump into each other online and discover they still have feelings for one another.
Last Tango in Halifax features all six hour-long episodes of the show's first season.
I'll go out on a limb and say love stories featuring two elderly characters aren't that common, and even more rare when they're not ageist. So Last Tango in Halifax is a rare find indeed—smart, realistic, and doesn't treat its leads like doddering simpletons.
The show is loosely based on the experiences of show creator Sally Wainwright's mother, who was reconnected with her childhood sweetheart late in her life. Wainwright (Scott & Bailey) quickly sets up the central characters' relationship and lets their bond serve as the show's anchor. This is smart, too—Alan and Celia are wonderful, and their romance isn't treated as if its unrealistically precious. They're different sorts—he's gentle and from a blue-collar background, she's playful and sophisticated—but they fit together perfectly. I love how the show gives the couple ample time to just get to know each other; they talk, laugh, butt heads and come out the other side more in love than before. And while the show isn't a comedy per se, Alan and Celia are hoot, especially when they're together. Jacobi and Reid consistently nail their parts.
Last Tango in Halifax packs a lot of twists and turns into its six hours. Wainwright keeps the plot devices within the realm of possibility, too, which helps make the stories so captivating. Alan and Celia's families get ample subplots to help round the show out. Gillian, a widow herself, works several jobs to make ends meet while trying to keep her son from the bad influences of her suspicious brother-in-law Robbie (Dean Andrews, United). Caroline, a headmistress at an affluent private school, is struggling under the weight of all of the pressures in her life. As we spend more time with them, we get to see how complex their lives are, and some of the storylines are surprisingly gripping. (And, in one instance, surprisingly creepy.) It's a drama through and through, but one infused with a huge dose of comedy and romance (and it's never what I'd call a romantic comedy).
Last Tango in Paris works on the notions that normal people can have big dreams, and that people can forgive and grow to love people pushed the boundaries. The cast sells it all, too—Jacobi, Reid, Walker, and Lancashire are consistently excellent, but the supporting cast is also great. The characters feel refreshingly believable and interesting, and they're all treated like they matter regardless of their age or life circumstances.
The set: BBC's two-disc set of Last Tango in Halifax gets by just fine with its 1.78:1 standard definition transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track. There's nothing noticeably wrong with either, but nothing really pops either (save for the occasional shot of the Yorkshire countryside). There are sadly no extras.
Last Tango in Halifax is a lovely little show, full of warmth and some great (and believable) twists. While this set is severely lacking in extras, the show is still worth tracking down.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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