I’d not had a great day and I retreated to bed with my laptop to catch up on a couple of new BBC series thanks to the power of the almighty iPlayer. Miraculously, this turned out to be the perfect cure for my bad mood!
First up was Last Tango in Halifax. This is an easy going six-part series which is well and truly embedded in the ‘comfortable’ zone of watching. Celia and Alan were almost sweethearts at school, but it didn’t work out. They both lived their lives and raised a family, now 60 years later they reconnect via facebook and rather nervously arrange to have coffee. Each of their daughters are meanwhile having their own problems with their families.
There’s nothing stressful about Last Tango in Halifax, it’s easy going, amiable, sweet, funny and just utterly lovely. Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi are perfect as people who have plenty of experience of life, but are also adorably nervous about a first date. Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker are equally great as women living very different lives, but each just trying to make the best of everything. The whole thing is full of an easy going humour and charm that made me completely fall in love with it.
After that success I wasn’t optimistic that my luck would hold for the second new series of the evening, The Secret of Crickley Hall. Mother of three, Eve Caleigh, nods off while her son Cam is playing in a park, she wakes up and he’s gone. 11 months later, Cam is still missing and the family relocates to try and escape the pressure of the upcoming anniversary. Unfortunately they pick Crickley Hall, a house with a disturbing history, gradually revealed through flashbacks to 1943 when it was an orphanage with a very strict master. The history carries through to the present and the Caleigh family start experiencing Weird Stuff.
This is a shorter series, just 3 episodes, and is moving along a lot faster, well paced so that the tension is gradually built up, but doesn’t become unbearable. The Caleigh family is extremely likeable and believable, both in how they’re dealing with the grief of their missing son and how they approach the weird events of the house. Suranne Jones (the Tardis!) Eve believes that she has a psychic connection with her son which gets a little wishy-washy, but it’s well balanced by the way the rest of the family treat her – they don’t necessarily believe her, but they are complete supportive. Maisie Williams as the older daughter steals every scene that she’s in, much as she does as Arya in Game of Thrones. It’s impossible not to like this family, they’re smart and funny, tightly knit without being saccharine and they’re really doing their best to get through the terrible uncertainty and grief.
The period elements aren’t quite as strong. Douglas Henshall and Sarah Smart are stuck with some pretty hammy dialogue and they come rather too close to pantomime villains. Similarly Olivia Cooke as Nancy Linnet, the young teacher worried for the safety of the pupils comes across as a rather too perfect rescuer. But balanced by the extremely ‘real’ feeling modern sections, the flashbacks aren’t too bad. The whole thing combines into a sort of easy-going creepiness that might make you jump a couple of times and keeps you paying attention, but isn’t going to keep you up at nights.
The Telegraph on Last Tango in Halifax – The ways in which this story of late love might have gone wrong were numerous, but with the help of beautifully nuanced performances from her cast, Wainwright steered an entertaining course between the Scylla of sentimental regret and the Charybdis of patronising caricature.
The Independent – [Last Tango in Halifax] triumphed because it wasn’t about old people or even elderly romance, but love. This (sentimental) 30-year-old loved every minute.
The Telegraph on The Secret of Crickley Hall – It all clipped along quite watchably, but – unpardonably for the horror genre – with no sickening sense of jeopardy or threat.
Den of Geek – The Secret of Crickley Hall is entertaining and involving stuff. Nancy and the Caleighs are such sympathetic leads that the horrors of Crickley Hall have a satisfying heft of consequence.