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‘Last Tango in Halifax’ Takes an Adoring Look at Love
December 17, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

Don’t blink or you could miss the whole fourth season of PBS’s Last Tango in Halifax.

That would be a pity because it remains a singularly remarkable show, a story of late-in-life love that artfully avoids sentimentality.

The “season,” as it were, consists of two one-hour specials that air this Sunday and next Sunday at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings).

Interestingly, it doesn’t play like one of those two-hour TV movies. It tucks in multiple storylines, most of them ongoing from the previous three seasons, which themselves totaled just 18 episodes.

Derek Jacobi (top) and Anne Reid (top) star as Alan Buttershaw and Celia Dawson, who had an unspoken mutual attraction as teenagers and meet again a half-century later after both have been married, raised a family and lost their spouses.

It’s a feel-good story in the larger sense, as Alan and Celia are devoted to one another. They are also both aware of their mortality, so they are determined to enjoy their remaining time.

Heartwarming as that can often be, Last Tango also acknowledges the effect of their relationship on others and how the inevitable crises and mini-dramas of every life ripple throughout families.  

Alan is rather relaxed, with a droll sense of humor and an eagerness to please. Celia, while no less solicitous of Alan, is more impulsive and opinionated, sometimes prone to speak before she has thought something fully through.

As we get to the fourth season, a significant part of the dramatic focus has shifted to daughters from their earlier marriages.

Celia’s daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire) has taken a new job overseeing a school for troubled youth. It’s an admirable step with serious challenges. She’s moving some distance away, which creates logistical issues with her ex-husband over custody matters and forces her to assess where the death of her partner Kate (Nina Sosanya) has left her emotionally. A seemingly casual fling with Olga (Lorraine Burroughs) isn’t resolving that one.

Alan’s daughter Gillian (Nicola Walker), who has gradually become close to Caroline, struggles with Alan’s decision about his estate and burial plans, as well as her ongoing uncertainty about what to do with her own life as she moves into middle age.

If it all sounds a little soap-ish, it’s not handled that way. Conversations are blunt, not melodramatic, and our characters often put themselves into situations where there’s no clear right or wrong move.

Jacobi and Reid keep meshing together beautifully. So well, in fact, that at this point in the series we don’t need extensive scenes between them to make that clear.

They can talk quickly on the phone, or they can briefly reassure one another about some crisis of the moment, and we understand that whatever else is happening, they’re happy and fortunate to have each other.

Once that’s clear, we can move into the details of their daughters’ tangled lives and remember that a happy ending can be built on a lot of things that in the moment feel anything but.

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Adam Traynor
Yes, I suppose the show is ultimately about love, and how people may sometimes overcome significant difficulties, and perhaps this will help some viewers get past the very dark streak that runs through it. Gillian is a very troubled character, and there seems no end in sight to her resolving the great burden she carries. I wish there had been one or two more episodes to help move this along.
Dec 28, 2017   |  Reply
Caroline hasn't split with Kate; Kate was killed in an accident. Thank you for encouraging people to watch this delightful series.
Dec 18, 2017   |  Reply
Linda Donovan
You are right, of course, and the mistake has been corrected. Thank you, Sharon!
Dec 24, 2017
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