Magazine article The Spectator

Pensioner Passion

Magazine article The Spectator

Pensioner Passion

Article excerpt

Does love run out when life runs out? Or does it intensify, touching and changing all around it? Two series now on our screens make a strong case for the latter - one is about love striking in old age, the other about young lovers struck by Aids.

Both pack a wallop. Since its Bafta-winning first series last year, Last Tango in Halifax (BBC1, Tuesdays) - about a widower and widow, Alan and Celia (wonderfully played by Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid), who reignite their teenage romance by getting engaged in their seventies - has been lauded for its celebration of love among the over-35s. But pensioner passion is not the only surprise this show offers - indeed, as the weeks go by, you realise that's the least surprising thing about it.

The family drama throws us a twist every few minutes: past abortions are divulged, financial fiascos announced, possible murders mooted and ex-lovers recalled or rerejected, or both. Gays come out, as do unexpected babies (to 15-year-old mothers). Recently, Alan and Celia got married in secret, but their wedding was quickly followed by bitter rows between Alan and his daughter Gillian, a scheme by Celia's daughter Caroline to buy out her loser husband's share of their house, Caroline's lesbian lover arranging to be impregnated by an ex-boyfriend, and Gillian's teenage son's girlfriend giving birth (she was eight months' pregnant and had only just realised it).

A gentle, elderly waltz the show is not - this is a tango all right, all electric emotions and sharp swerves, drama and risk-taking.

It's billed as a comedy, but it's a very dark one, for aside from the septuagenarian lovers, everyone else is often shown in an ugly light. The family members exchange bilious words, their actions are frequently petty and selfish, their thoughts never stray far from money - they're always trying to extract pounds and pennies from each other. This is what makes the show a terrific watch, but the problems pile up with such speed that a sense of the surreal creeps in.

I have no doubt that families can behave that badly, but can they behave so efficiently badly? There's a danger that this may undermine the portrayal of Alan and Celia's relationship itself. At first their happy reunion seemed infectious in the best possible way, but now it looks as if it might be infected by the relentlessness and unpredictability of the surrounding tumults. …

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