THE thing about older folks is they are becoming increasingly interesting. That is because we baby boomers are becoming increasingly old. The older we get, the more we’re going to cost everyone else to look after us, of course. But artistically, older folks are chic.
I offer as exhibit A that marvellous television series, Last Tango in Halifax. I am well behind the curve here as I have just finished watching season one; season two has already screened and season three is in commission.
It is one of those intricately plotted series where it is folly to start anywhere but the beginning.
The set-up is an increasingly popular plot device. Two childhood sweethearts somehow lose contact and are reunited many decades later as dotage is approaching.
This was the circumstance in the highly successful series As Time Goes By. Lionel and Jean fell in love as youngsters. He then went off to the Korean War and she never received the crucial letter he sent. She thought he had lost interest. And so it went for 40 years or so until they ran into each other and one thing led to another.
Last Tango uses a similar scheme. Two 16year-olds, Alan and Celia, are smitten. Her family moves to another town so she can’t meet Alan for their first formal date. She gives a note to a friend to let him know both what happened and her new address. The friend never delivers the note and marries Alan herself.
This couple doesn’t meet then for another 60 years, when Facebook brings them together in their mid-70s.
As people remain active into the 70s and 80s, fiction is now starting to lengthen the time-horizons for this particular plot device. It works very well because it gives the relationship story the two normally contradictory qualities of long acquaintance and new romance, freshness and familiarity.
And if there is one thing TV plotting likes, it is having its cake and eating it too.
A happy marriage of any kind is difficult for fiction to deal with because it lacks obvious points of drama. That is why, as E.M. Forster pointed out, novels often end with a marriage.
But new romance is perfect for fiction. So when dealing with older folks a long thwarted, newly reunited couple gives you the best of all worlds.
Celia is played by the TV stalwart, Anne Reid. I find her rich, sweet, northern accent and naturally melodious voice almost a perform- ance in itself and completely captivating. Equally good is Derek Jacobi’s Alan, as the model of northern decency. These older people, like the characters in The
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, confront tough and complex issues, not only (but not least either) because they are getting near to the time of their deaths.
This is very high-class British TV but I have one complaint. In order to propel the plot, the authors sometimes make characters behave out of character, that is, inconsistent with the way they have previously been drawn.
This is a criticism that was made of William Thackeray’s characters in his vast Victorian novels, especially Vanity Fair. But Thackeray was such a good writer that the characters were convincing despite their inconsistencies.
The same is substantially true of Last Tango. The acting is of such a consistently high standard that each moment seems real even if, logically, it contradicts the moment before.
All fiction involves the willing suspension of disbelief but the best fiction shouldn’t make you accept an unexplained, or worse, unacknowledged, contradiction. The danger is that you then care about the characters less because you no longer fully believe in them.
Naturally, flesh and blood human beings are a mass of contradictions. But generally there is a thread of consistency in most people.
Fiction needs its characters to develop, but TV too often has them behaving randomly to facilitate plot lines.
These, of course, are minor complaints, and I reach a happy conclusion: the age of the geezer is upon us.