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Last Tango in Halifax is a British comedy-drama series that broadcast on BBC One, beginning November 2012 and ending with a two-part Christmas special in December 2016.[1] Screenwriter Sally Wainwright loosely adapted the story of her mother's second marriage.[2] Starring Sir Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid as Alan and Celia, former childhood sweethearts, who are now in their seventies. Reunited via Facebook, they meet, fall in love, and plan to marry. Reid and Jacobi enjoyed having the chance to play out a love story between older people.[3][4][5] Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker star as Caroline, Celia's daughter, and Gillian, Alan's daughter, respectively. Other characters are played by Nina Sosanya, Tony Gardner, Ronni Ancona, Dean Andrews, Sacha Dhawan and Josh Bolt.

Last Tango in Halifax
Series title over coloured overlapping stripes
Written bySally Wainwright
Composer(s)Murray Gold
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series4
No. of episodes20 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)Nicola Shindler
Production location(s)Yorkshire
Running time60 minutes
Production company(s)Red Production Company
Original networkBBC One
Original release20 November 2012 (2012-11-20)
External links
Production website

The series has been praised for its depiction of the older generation, strong acting, and believable dialogue. A critic for The Daily Telegraph summarised the series as "a triumph against TV's ageism", and it has been endorsed by an executive member of the charity Age UK. Ahead of the American premiere, a critic for the Los Angeles Times described it as "the best new show of the fall". Last Tango in Halifax accrued four nominations for the 2013 British Academy Television Awards and won the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series. The United States broadcast television network PBS began airing the first series in September 2013.

A second series was commissioned, and filming began in summer 2013. It was broadcast on BBC One from 19 November 2013 to 24 December 2013. A third series was commissioned prior to the final episode of the second,[6] aired between 28 December 2014 and 1 February 2015. Immediately following the end of Series Three, the BBC announced that a fourth series had been commissioned. The fourth series consists of only two episodes, described as Christmas Specials.[7] They were broadcast on 19 and 20 December 2016.[8] Despite thoughts that the series would not be returning Sarah Lancashire and writer Sally Wainright both confirmed in March and May 2019 respectively that a new Series is currently being written. [9]



Celia Dawson and Alan Buttershaw are both widowed and in their seventies. They were attracted to each other in the 1950s, but never expressed their feelings, and Celia moved away with her parents. In the present day, they are reunited after being persuaded to join Facebook by their respective grandchildren.[10] Alan has loved Celia since he was 16 years old,[11] whilst Celia is described as a woman who is "unfulfilled" and was unhappily married to a man she grew to hate.[11] After their reunion, Alan and Celia discover that they still feel as passionately for each other as they did when they were teenagers. Their story is described as a "testament of the uplifting power of love at any age".[10]

Alan and Celia's romance is depicted alongside the troubles of their own grown-up daughters, and the series' official description says that its portrayal of family is "as dark as it is comic".[10] Alan's daughter Gillian and Celia's daughter Caroline are complete opposites: widowed Gillian runs a farm and works part-time in a supermarket,[11] whilst Oxford-educated[11] Caroline is the headmistress of a successful school.[10] Their parents' engagement affects both daughters' lives. Gillian wonders how she and her son will cope without her father around to help,[12] whilst Caroline, struggling with depression and her feelings for a female colleague, feels that her mother's unconventional romance gives her "permission to finally admit to being who she really is".[13]


Concept and writingEdit

The series is based on lead writer Sally Wainwright's personal experiences.[2] She described it as "the most personal thing I've ever written".[14] Her mother, Dorothy, lost contact with a childhood friend, Alec Walker,[2] when she was 15, but they reconnected on the social networking website Friends Reunited 60 years later[14] and within six months were married. Wainwright said the relationship between her mother and Alec "was so beautiful and uplifting that it inspired everyone around them".[15] When she told the story to her colleague Nicola Shindler, Shindler suggested she turn her experience into a television series. Shindler became the series' executive producer and according to Wainwright, the script was sold "instantly".[15]

The character of Celia is based on Dorothy; Wainwright has noted that her mother "became so passionate and emotional" after falling in love again.[15] Some scenes in the series are based on true events. In one episode Celia and Alan are shown laughing at an argument between Caroline and her husband in the next room; Wainwright recalls discovering her mother and stepfather in the same situation after Wainwright had had an argument with her husband Austin.[15] Caroline's discomfort with Celia's discussing her sex life is based on a conversation Wainwright had with her mother. Alec died three years into their marriage, but according to Wainwright she was "delighted" to have their relationship dramatised; Wainwright believes Last Tango in Halifax is "a celebration of how fantastic the whole thing was".[15]

Though largely biographical, the series does contain some invented story lines. In real life, Alec and Dorothy's families had a good relationship from the start; in the TV series, Caroline and Gillian initially have a feud.[15] Whilst Jacobi and Reid's storyline is predominantly uplifting, the actions of their onscreen families were intended to provide a contrast. With regard to Alan and Celia's dysfunctional families, Wainwright states that they "bring drama and chaos at every turn" and that the series aims to "get under the skin of these characters".[2]

Through Caroline, the series explores various LGBT themes. A source of contention for Celia is her daughter entering into a same sex relationship and later coming out to her. Anne Reid spoke positively of the storyline, stating that she believes a lot of people of her own generation are homophobic. She felt that her own character "might show them [and] might change them" just as Celia must become more accepting to avoid losing Alan. Jacobi concurred: Alan has "a streak of tolerance in him ... that perhaps Celia doesn't".[16] In series three, the division between Celia and Caroline widens after Celia refuses to attend Caroline's wedding to another woman. Wainwright felt that killing off Caroline's partner Kate would be the most effective way to propel the drama onwards and to develop the emotional lives of the remaining characters going forward. She was conflicted over this decision, having grown attached to the character of Kate, and actress Nina Sosanya, and wrote two versions of the fourth episode; the unaired one would have seen Kate survive.[17]

Characters and castingEdit

Derek Jacobi was renowned for his theatre work.

Discussing the casting of Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, Wainwright stated: "we went for the best and we got them".[2] The Guardian felt that one of the series' successes was the unlikely casting of a "theatrical knight" (Jacobi) and a "TV Stalwart" (Reid).[18]

Wainwright had not anticipated being able to secure an actor of Jacobi's calibre for the role of Alan, stating that she "never imagined getting someone like him in one of my dramas", believing him to be in "a different stratosphere".[15] Upon casting Jacobi, Wainright felt that in addition to looking similar to Alec Walker, Jacobi embodied his personality perfectly, particularly his sense of humour.[15]

Jacobi was surprised to be offered the role of Alan; as his reputation centred on parts that were either "posh", "classical" or "costume". He enjoyed having the chance to play someone who is "an ordinary fellow".[19] He also felt the series provided a chance to depict a "love story between two older characters that isn't patronising or stereotyped in any way".[11] Wainwright felt that the two lead actors had a palpable chemistry that reflected her mother's second marriage.[2][15]

Reid and Jacobi also influenced the creative process — after Reid discovered Jacobi could jive, they implored Wainright to include a dance scene in an episode.[2][20] Jacobi also inspired a scene in which two of Alan's friends (played by Roy Barraclough and Paul Copley)[21] vie to be his best man.[15] A teenage version of Alan is portrayed in flashback by Nico Mirallegro.[22]

Reid was Wainwright's personal choice for the role of Celia, describing the actress as "so down to earth and compelling to watch".[15] Reid had tired of playing older characters for whom their age was a defining characteristic, stating that she had been sent lots of scripts wherein "where the minute anyone's over 65, they turn into a doddering old idiot".[23] She hoped that Last Tango in Halifax would "give hope to older people",[24] opining that the relationship between Celia and Alan was free from ageism.[23]

Reid identified herself with Celia's personality — believing herself to be quite reckless and outgoing [20]— though stated that unlike her character she has no desire to enter another relationship.[24] She enjoyed working with her friend Sarah Lancashire, who previously played her onscreen daughter in Rose and Maloney, and suggested that the two share similar looks.[23] Reid described filming the series as "one of the best times in my career" and stated that she was proud of the work put in.[11] Amelia Young plays a teenage Celia during a flashback sequence in episode six.[22]

Sarah Lancashire portrays Celia's daughter Caroline, whose lesbian relationship forms a prominent subplot.

Lancashire discerned that the series was "very special" within reading two pages of the script. Other factors that persuaded her to commit to the series included the casting of Reid and Jacobi, and the series' juxtaposition of a heart-warming story with elements of humour.[11] In terms of her character, Lancashire identified with Caroline being "a working woman trying to keep everything under control".[11] She stated the series' ensemble cast was "the closest I’ve come to being in a theatre company on television" due to how well the actors worked together.[25]

The cast had all assumed that Last Tango in Halifax would only run for one series.[25] Filming of the second series clashed with filming of the second series of the BBC One period drama The Paradise, which also starred Sarah Lancashire. This necessitated her having to leave her role in The Paradise halfway through the second series in order to reprise her role as Caroline in Last Tango in Halifax.[26] In an interview in 2013 Lancashire stated that the decision to return to Last Tango in Halifax was the easiest she had made in her working life stating "as an actor you can wait an entire career to be involved in a project like this."[27]

The role resulted in her receiving the most fan mail of her career. Lancashire was surprised and humbled by the responses from women stating that Caroline's same sex relationship had personally inspired them.[27] She stated that in her approach to the character she did not focus on Caroline's sexuality, but the "humanity of her".[27] Due to the underrepresentation of gay characters on television, Lancashire felt it particularly important that Caroline's experience would not be portrayed inaccurately.[27] In 2014 Wainwright recalled being "blown away" by Lancashire's performances in the rushes for the series, which partly inspired her to script the series Happy Valley in which Lancashire plays the lead role.[28]

Nicola Walker completes the main cast as Gillian. She admired the character's honesty, bravery and lack of self-pity, and identified strongly with her tendency to speak before thinking things through and her deep love for her father.[11] In 2014 The Daily Telegraph described the role as a "game-changer" in the trajectory of Walker's career.[29] Though ultimately successful in winning the role Walker initially believed that she would not get the part due to a lack of confidence in her northern accent, and the presence of northern actresses in the audition.[29]

Her approach to the character saw her delve into Gillian's psychology with Walker particularly interested in the contradiction between Gillian's sexual confidence and her use of sex as a form of self-punishment.[29] She felt the series showed a very adult approach to storytelling, stating that she had "never come across a character like Gillian before" and praising the variety of strong female roles.[30]

The Independent noted the significance of the series having three female leads over the age of 40, stating that this, alongside Caroline's lesbian storyline and Gillian's attitude towards sex made the series "quietly subversive" when compared against primetime television as a whole.[30]

In addition to its main characters, Last Tango in Halifax features a regular supporting cast. Nina Sosanya plays Caroline's romantic partner Kate, who she decides to marry over the course of the series. Gerard Gilbert of The Independent describes the relationship between the couple as "one of the most normalised lesbian relationships ever shown on the small screen."[19] Nina Sosanya noted that she enjoyed filming with Sarah Lancashire and that the pair would "giggle a lot like completely juvenile idiots" whilst filming their love scenes.[19]

Other characters introduced in the first series include Caroline's husband John (Tony Gardner) and his lover Judith (Ronni Ancona), Gillian's brother-in-law, Robbie (Dean Andrews), and Paul (Sacha Dhawan), a youth with whom Gillian has a sexual relationship. Josh Bolt plays Gillian's son Raff, whilst Edward Ashley and Louis Greatorex play Caroline's teenage sons William and Lawrence.[21][22][31][32][33][34] The second series expanded the families of Alan and Celia. Timothy West appears as Alan's brother Ted whilst Gemma Jones plays Celia's sister Muriel.[35][36] The third series later introduces Rupert Graves as Gary, who is revealed to be Alan's illegitimate son,[37] and Michelle Hurst as Kate's mother Ginika.[19][38]


The first series was filmed in Yorkshire and in Altrincham between January and April 2012. Altrincham was used to represent scenes set in Harrogate, such as those set at Caroline's house.[39] The second series began filming in July 2013.[40] Filming took place at Holdsworth House in Halifax in August 2013[41] and also at Hoghton Tower, a fortified manor house in Lancashire, in August 2013. This resulted in the Tower's being closed to the public between 19 and 28 August.[42] In September the University of York supplied ten students from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television to work as extras on the series.[43] Filming for the third series began in Yorkshire and at Peover Hall, near Knutsford, Cheshire in July 2014.[44]


Series Episodes Originally aired
Series premiere Series finale
1 6 20 November 2012 19 December 2012
2 6 19 November 2013 24 December 2013
3 6 28 December 2014[45] 1 February 2015
4 2 19 December 2016 20 December 2016

Broadcast and receptionEdit

Consolidated viewing figures

The series premièred to overnight ratings of 6.160 million viewers, 25.6% of the available audience, as the highest rated show at 9 pm on 20 November.[46] The series finale, airing 19 December 2012, also won its time-slot, achieving an overnight series high of 6.290 million viewers, 26.6% of the available audience.[47] Consolidated figures released by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) revealed that the series première achieved a consolidated rating of 7.304 million viewers,[48] whilst the finale had 7.480 million.[48] The overall series average in terms of viewing figures was 7.316 million viewers.[nb 1] The Independent reported that the early consolidated ratings received by the programme made it the highest rated new mid-week television drama of 2012.[49] In September 2013, the series began airing on the American broadcast television network PBS.[50]

Critical receptionEdit

The series has attracted mostly positive reviews, largely focused on the depiction of its two septuagenarian lead characters. Jane Shilling of The Daily Telegraph labelled the series "a triumph against TV's ageism" in an examination of the portrayal of elderly people in the media.[51] Shilling singled out Jacobi and Reid's performances, stating that they provide a "mixture of gravity and levity" that "brings a transcendent quality to their characters' resolute ordinariness".

Lucy Harmer, an executive member of the charity Age UK, also praised the series for portraying two "normal, healthy and sane" older characters, citing the depiction of Internet use by the elderly as something ordinary. She compared the treatment of older characters in the series to Hilary Boyd's novel Thursdays in the Park and the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012).[52]

The Huffington Post's Caroline Frost thought the series was reminiscent of the dialogue and sensibility of the playwright Alan Bennett. She wrote the story was poignant and praised a central theme underlining "how many people make do with their day-to-day business and responsibilities, while still holding on to their private dreams".[53]

Andrew Anthony of The Guardian had his "low expectations ... squarely confounded", giving particular praise to the dialogue and the central performances.[18] Jane Simon of the Daily Mirror felt that Last Tango in Halifax experienced a mid-series dip, though she praised what she felt was a triumphant finale. She also praised Wainwright's script and the lead quartet of Jacobi, Reid, Lancashire, and Walker for creating "characters you can believe in even when they're behaving appallingly".[54]

The series was reviewed favourably by the American website AfterEllen, which reports on the depiction of gay and bisexual women in the media. Correspondent Jill Guccini stated that she "started off watching this series thinking it was a cute little show about some oldies falling in love", but at the end of the series believed it was "some of the finest television I've seen, anywhere, ever".[55]

Critical reception in the United States was also largely positive following PBS' acquisition of the show. Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times labelled the series as "the best new show of the fall" describing it as "a rapturous mix of absurdly fairy-tale-romance and frantic modern complications, set in the picturesque drear of Yorkshire and brought to life by masterfully shaded performances." She opined that Reid and Jacobi "are capable of doing more with a startled look or careful smile ... than most actors can do in seven pages of dialogue".[56]

Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe acknowledged that the public might not find the series appealing based on its title and premise alone, stating that PBS' description of the programme made it sound "as saccharine and hackneyed as a Geritol commercial". Upon viewing the series however, he praised the added dimensions of the series and wrote that it was "so much more interesting" than the central premise suggested. He also felt that Walker and Lancashire played an important part; "both add[ing] a necessary amount of bitter to the sweet".[57]

Mike Hale of The New York Times was more cynical about the series, describing it as a "warm comforter of a series" and "treacle". However he felt that series also distinguished itself from this category of media by its "relatively dry style and careful modulation of tone and volume" in addition to "a crackerjack cast".[58]


The first series of Last Tango in Halifax was nominated for four awards at the 2013 British Academy Television Awards, which took place on 12 May 2013. Actors Derek Jacobi, Anne Reid, and Sarah Lancashire earned respective nominations in the Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress categories. The series itself was nominated for the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series, and ultimately won.[59] Additionally, Wainwright was named best Drama Writer at the 2013 British Academy Television Craft Awards for her writing of the series.[60] The series was nominated for Best Drama Series at the 2013 Broadcasting Press Guild Awards whilst Sally Wainwright was nominated for the writer's award for her contribution to both Last Tango in Halifax and Scott & Bailey.[61] In 2014, Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker were both nominated for a British Academy Television Award in the category for "Best Supporting Actress" for their roles in Last Tango in Halifax. Lancashire won the award for her role as Caroline.[62]

Possible adaptationsEdit

In October 2013, it was reported in news outlets that American actress, screenwriter, and producer Diane Keaton had acquired the rights to remake Last Tango in Halifax for American audiences on the subscription cable channel HBO.[63] Sally Wainwright mentioned this development at a Broadcasting Press Guild event and stated that though she did not expect to be closely involved in the remake, she would have an associate producer role.[63] However, the following day Red Production Company released a statement stating that a remake would likely be delayed since the original series was still airing on American channel PBS.[64] In April 2014, it was reported that the series would be remade for French television by BBC Worldwide France and the production company NEWEN.[65]


  1. ^ Calculated by combining the individual viewing figures for each episode, sourced from the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (7.304 million, 6.779 million, 7.508 million, 7.334 million, 7.492 million, 7.480 million)[48] and dividing by six.


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External linksEdit