GOLDEN OLDIES

There’s great chem­istry be­tween the age­ing ac­tors in two new shows

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell

‘T HE idea, you know, is that the sen­ti­men­tal per­son thinks things will last — the ro­man­tic per­son has a des­per­ate con­fi­dence that they won’t,” F. Scott Fitzger­ald wrote in This Side of Par­adise. I thought of this while watch­ing the early scenes of the sec­ond sea­son of Sally Wain­wright’s de­light­ful Last Tango in Halifax, pleased that it had re­turned for a sec­ond sea­son, and then fu­ri­ous be­cause it got me a bit teary only min­utes in. Ro­man­tic or sen­ti­men­tal, I wasn’t sure if I could see it out.

It’s the BBC se­ries star­ring Derek Ja­cobi and Anne Reid as a cou­ple who fall in love for a sec­ond time, an af­fect­ing pro­mo­tion of love for the over-60s, and the way early ro­man­tic ex­pe­ri­ences leave a last­ing im­print on who we are and who we fall for. (If you haven’t seen it yet, be aware that it’s more like an Alan Ben­nett ex­er­cise in dig­ni­fied re­silience than that no­to­ri­ous movie of Bernardo Ber­tolucci’s.)

The cou­ple are child­hood sweet­hearts Alan But­ter­shaw and Celia Daw­son — both wid­owed and in their 70s — who last saw each other as teenagers and have been re­united through the in­ter­net and email. As Wain­wright says, they em­body the spirit of the show: it’s not about be­ing old, it’s about be­ing in love. (I’m find­ing more and more that, to quote Os­car Wilde, “the tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.”)

Wain­wright most re­cently gave us Scott & Bai­ley, also broad­cast on the ABC, the subtly re­alised po­lice se­ries fea­tur­ing all-fe­male leads and full of calamity and in­trigue. Fo­cus­ing on their re­la­tion­ship the se­ries — a third is on its way — does an en­joy­ably neat job of find­ing the right bal­ance be­tween real­is­tic English po­lice pro­ce­dures, some rather nasty dis­plays of aber­rant crim­i­nal­ity and po­lice workplace pol­i­tics. Wain­wright re­veals a gift for cre­at­ing a soberly nat­u­ral­is­tic se­ries that avoids the blokey generic cliches and pre­sents real women with au­then­tic lives as po­lice, though they are not al­to­gether with­out their splen­did quirks.

Last Tango, hugely pop­u­lar here and in Bri­tain, proved to be a nice change, too, from the cliched de­pic­tion of the over-60s in most TV dra­mas, usu­ally old codger fig­ures of fun or tar- gets for con­de­scend­ing sen­ti­men­tal­ity. Not the case here; Wain­wright does sen­ti­ment with­out sen­ti­men­tal­ity, emo­tion with­out mawk­ish­ness, and feel­ing with­out mushi­ness. (Again I’m re­minded of a quote, this time from Yeats’s Sail­ing to Byzan­tium, where he says that age is a pal­try thing, a tat­tered coat upon a stick, “un­less, soul claps its hands and sing”.)

When Alan and Celia fi­nally met up they dis­cov­ered an al­most Shake­spearean mis­un­der­stand­ing on both sides had kept them apart. And, as of­ten seems to be the case, their ro­mance pro­ceeded rapidly; they had wasted too many years with­out each other, had lit­tle time left in life, and they did not want to wait.

The first sea­son fin­ished with them com­ing close to los­ing each other again with Alan’s heart at­tack, though it was less of a cliffhanger than just the clos­ing of an­other chap­ter. He’s re­cov­er­ing in hospi­tal as the first episode gets un­der way, rather furtively de­cid­ing with Celia to have a se­cret wed­ding as soon as pos­si­ble. He’s de­ter­mined to just “get on wi’ it” and she’s de­lighted. “We can get mar­ried in the carpark of the Dog and Duck for all I care,” she tear­fully tells him.

While the over­ar­ch­ing story of Alan and Celia is charm­ing and in­sight­ful, their some­times bit­ter dys­func­tional fam­i­lies bring full-on drama and chaos, and count­less plot twists to the se­ries as Wain­wright ex­plores those other more unlovely places in fam­ily re­la­tion­ships.

Caro­line’s daugh­ter (Sarah Lan­cashire), a head­strong, suc­cess­ful head­mistress, is still ques­tion­ing her life choices and her re­la­tion­ship with her mother. Her mar­riage has col­lapsed, though nervy hus­band John (Tony Gard­ner) is still about and she’s still caught up in a fraught lit­tle some­thing with a fel­low fe­male teacher. And Alan’s daugh­ter, the chaotic, earthy widow Gil­lian (Ni­cola Walker), is still work­ing on the fam­ily farm and in the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket. The edgy Caro­line and de­fi­ant Gil­lian are dis­cov­er­ing they quite like each other; how­ever, Gil­lian’s need to own up to her night with Caro­line’s ex­hus­band John (Tony Gard­ner) could jeop­ar­dise the soon-to-be step­sis­ters’ fledg­ling friend­ship. John looms as the per­haps un­in­ten­tional vil­lain of the piece, now a bit in love with Gil­lian, too full of maudlin self-pity to be aware of the dam­age he is caus­ing. Gard­ner turns in a fine per­for­mance chan­nelling Jack Lemmon’s throw­away, stut­ter­ing and stam­mer­ing low-key act­ing style, ev­ery hes­i­tant pause given mean­ing. The women are again all splen­did.

Di­rec­tor Eu­ros Lyn, who also did some in­ven­tive work on Sher­lock, again di­rects and makes great use of tight close-ups, the cam­era slowly track­ing though space and sub­jec­tively hov­er­ing around the char­ac­ters. He con­trasts this with al­most ar­chi­tec­tural fram­ings in some scenes, al­low­ing Wain­wright’s char­ac­ters room to play out the scene with­out in­tru­sive close­ups. Noth­ing is forced or rushed, much of the ac­tion car­ried on the ac­tors’ ex­pres­sive faces. THE faces are ex­pres­sive too in the ABC’s Old School, star­ring Bryan Brown and Sam Neill in a classy new crime ca­per, a kind of comedic buddy se­ries crossed with the hard-nosed thriller, with just a touch of New Tricks tossed in. There’s also the slight­est whiff of that late 60s TV se­ries star­ring Robert Wag­ner, It Takes a Thief, it­self in­spired by the 1955 Cary Grant movie di­rected by Al­fred Hitch­cock, con­structed around the no­tion that it takes a crook to catch one. What a win­ner of a for­mat for Brown and Neill.

There’s a cre­ative clar­ity about Old School, nicely di­rected by Gre­gor Jordan ( Two Hands), which knows ex­actly what it’s do­ing. How could it not when the show stars these in­com­pa­ra­ble old stagers, vet­eran ac­tors who have kept com­pany with many mem­o­rable TV and film char­ac­ters, real people who have never lived? Their on­screen chem­istry, idio­syn­cratic comic tim­ing and com­radely ban­ter are worth a dozen he­li­copter shots, car chases and shootouts, though Jordan gives us those too with some con­sid­er­able flair.

Neill’s Sam McCabe, a re­tired cop, and Brown’s Len­nie Cahill, a re­tired safe­cracker, get to­gether to solve crimes, un­ravel scams, chas­ing around the fringes of so­ci­ety to make some much-needed cash, avoid­ing the ire of the un­der­world and the po­lice. They are both poor — for var­i­ous rea­sons hav­ing lost their su­per­an­nu­a­tion — and can­not re­sume their ca­reers.

They first en­coun­tered each other 13 years ear­lier in a stuffed-up ar­moured van holdup, in which Len­nie was sup­posed to blow the heav­ily re­in­forced truck door. In the en­su­ing shootout, Len­nie was ar­rested and a mys­te­ri­ous “bloke in a suit”, emerg­ing al­most su­per­nat­u­rally from be­tween parked cars, his face muf­fled by a scarf, shot McCabe with a high-pow­ered ri­fle.

Twelve years later, with Len­nie out of jail chas­ing his share of the rob­bery and McCabe still ob­sessed with who gunned him down, they’re in an un­likely al­liance to find the mas­ter­mind who’s now hunt­ing them both.

In this episode, as Len­nie tails cor­rupt cop Rick Dun­can (Aaron Jef­fery), whom they now know to be in­volved some­how, a car crash lands them in a large car re­birthing oper­a­tion run by the charm­ing but very dan­ger­ous Vince Pe­la­gatti (Damian Wal­she-Howl­ing).

Neill is won­der­ful as McCabe, still work­ing in that fa­mil­iar tersely enig­matic style, but cu­ri­ously vul­ner­a­ble here as a man try­ing to han­dle age­ing and re­tire­ment with dig­nity but still drawn to the chase.

And Brown is like an older clapped-out ver­sion of the lar­rikins he has played through the years, slower and crag­gier, but ev­ery now and again that devil’s-own-grin, his ca­reer trade­mark, stretches from ear to ear.

A min­i­mal­ist ac­tor, he sim­ply lets his mug tell us stuff, a twitch here, a gri­mace there, a raised eye­brow when the mo­ment calls for a com­ment.

These con­sum­mate pro­fes­sion­als man­age it all with grace and ac­torly fi­nesse with­out re­ally seem­ing to try. The show’s witty es­capism, the way it con­jures such ef­fort­less hu­mour out of crim­i­nal­ity, is its other great plea­sure.

Last Tango in Halifax, tonight, 7.30pm, ABC1 Old School, Fri­day, 8.30pm, ABC1

A scene from

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.