Beyond a Television Review: Last Tango in Halifax (Season 1)

A flurry of new blog posts! You can thank an enterprising young screenwriter at Rice University for reminding me during my visit that I do indeed have blog and I can write about my opinions here, if nowhere else. If nowhere else, this is where I get to write my version of public and private events; it’s better than Facebook or Twitter or even Skype (although not better than letter writing and snail mail correspondence) to hear what’s currently on in this writer’s life and brain in Toronto.

I’d heard about Last Tango in Halifax, but had no idea that it was the next show I should put on my queue. Or watch all the way through in less than a week (though there are only six episodes, so it’s not that great of a feat). But when I visited my mentor in Houston, we watched the first episode and I was hooked, just as she predicted I would be.

Why is Last Tango in Halifax so great? Because it defies any vision of what audiences want with its mainstream television show centered off the adventures and romance of two septuagenarians? Because the younger characters are all in their mid-40’s? Because it’s BBC and that automatically makes everything better? Perhaps.

For me, it’s the splendid use of revision. The future and the present constantly fold back and alter the past. The present events don’t change the past but simply the way everyone reacts to it and carries past events in their personalities, decisions, and life outlook. When Alan and Celia were first supposed to go out over 60 years ago could be her standing him up, or a random chain of events that led them to meet and fall in love six decades later. It’s all about how everyone agrees to embrace or reject that chain of events.

I love the show because it demonstrates the true nature of flashbacks. Last Tango doesn’t zoom back and forth between showing the literal past and the future until after those past events have been considered, argued, reflected, and woven into the present. Because that’s not what happens when we “flashback.” We experience the past in the present moment–so the show only presents a true “flashback,” presenting the moment when Alan first asked Celia out, at the very end of the first season.

People do change and though it may seem sudden, it happens over a long stretch of time. For me, it echoes an important piece of Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide: Ender speaks about how any story or formative event can become the “self-story” or “the tale that you must believe if you are to remain yourself.” This becomes an issue when someone holds that story too tightly against any new perspectives, retellings, or variations. The characters in Last Tango in Halifax don’t all embrace or accept revisions to their self-stories, but thankfully Sally Wainwright structured the show to do it for them.

I can’t wait to watch and learn more from Wainwright’s brilliance. But I’m metering it out so I can keep living my own life story and so I can appreciate each lesson her screenwriting can teach me.

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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One Response to Beyond a Television Review: Last Tango in Halifax (Season 1)

  1. Nancy Ingraham Sulc says:

    I watched this series as it aired on BBC, loved it! Another good BBC series with actress that played “Caroline” in Halifax is, “Happy Valley”. She plays a tough cop, divorcée and grandmother.

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