Last Tango in Halifax

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Last Tango in Halifax
Alt=Series title over coloured overlapping stripes
Genre Romantic drama
Written by Sally Wainwright
Composer(s) Murray Gold
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 2
No. of episodes 12
Executive producer(s) Nicola Shindler
Location(s) Yorkshire
Running time 60 minutes
Production company(s) Red Production Company
Original channel BBC One
Original run 20 November 2012 (2012-11-20)  – present
External links
Production website

Last Tango in Halifax is a British romantic drama series that started airing on BBC One on 20 November 2012. The series was written by Sally Wainwright, who was inspired by witnessing the happiness her mother's second marriage brought her late in life. Last Tango in Halifax stars Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid as widowed septuagenarians, Alan and Celia, childhood sweethearts who have been apart for 60 years. Re-united 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 that was not ageist or stereotyped.[citation needed]

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.

The American broadcast television network PBS picked up the first series and began airing it in September 2013. 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 series' 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.

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 has been commissioned.[1]


Celia Dawson and Alan Buttershaw are both widowed and in their seventies. In the 1950s they were attracted to each other 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.[2] Alan has "loved Celia since he was 16 years old",[3] whilst Celia is described as a woman who is "unfulfilled" having been unhappily married to a man she grew to hate.[3] 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".[2]

Alan and Celia's romance is depicted alongside the troubles of their own grown-up daughters; the series' press pack describes the portrayal of family as being "as dark as it is comic".[2] Alan's daughter Gillian and Celia's daughter Caroline are complete opposites; widowed Gillian runs a farm and works part-time in a supermarket,[3] whilst Oxford-educated[3] Caroline is headmistress of a successful school.[2] Their parents' engagement affects both daughters' lives; Gillian wonders how she and her son will cope without her father around to help,[4] whilst Caroline, struggling with depression and her feelings for a female colleague, feels her mother's unconventional romance gives her "'permission' to finally admit to being who she really is."[5]


Concept and writing[edit]

The series is based on lead writer Sally Wainwright's personal experiences.[6] She described it as "the most personal thing I've ever written".[7] Her mother, Dorothy, lost contact with a childhood friend, Alec Walker,[6] when she was 15, but they reconnected on the social networking website Friends Reunited 60 years later[7] 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".[8] 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".[8]

The character of Celia is based on Dorothy; Wainwright has noted that her mother "became so passionate and emotional" after falling in love again.[8] 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 having Wainwright had had an argument with her husband Austin.[8] Caroline's discomfort with Celia's discussing her sex life is based on a conversation Wainwright had with her mother. Dorothy's husband 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".[8]

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, whereas in the TV series, Caroline and Gillian initially have a feud.[8] Whilst Jacobi and Reid's storyline is predominantly uplifting, the actions of their onscreen families was 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".[6]

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".[9]


Jacobi, renowned for his theatre work, enjoyed the chance to explore a different character.

Discussing the casting of Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, Wainwright stated: "we went for the best and we got them".[6] The Guardian felt that one of the series' successes was the unlikely casting of a "theatrical knight" (Jacobi) and a "TV Stalwart" (Reid).[10] Reid was Wainwright's personal choice for the role of Celia, describing the actress as "so down to earth and compelling to watch".[8] Reid had tired of playing older characters for whom their age was a defining characteristic, stating that she had been sent lots of scripts wherin "where the minute anyone's over 65, they turn into a doddering old idiot".[11] She hoped that Last Tango in Halifax would "give hope to older people",[12] opining that the relationship between Celia and Alan was free from ageism.[11] Reid identified herself with Celia's personality — believing herself to be quite reckless and outgoing [13]— though stated that unlike her character she has no desire to enter another relationship.[12] She enjoyed working with her friend Sarah Lancashire, who previously played her onscreen daughter in Rose and Maloney, suggesting that the two share similar looks.[11] 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.[3] Amelia Young plays a teenage Celia during a flashback sequence in episode six.[14]

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".[8] Upon casting Jacobi, Wainright felt that in addition to looking similar to Alec Walker, Jacobi embodied his personality perfectly, particularly his sense of humour.[8] Jacobi enjoyed having the chance to play a character completely different from those he usually plays. 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".[3] Wainwright felt that the two lead actors had a palpable chemistry that reflected her mother's second marriage.[6][8] 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.[6][13] Jacobi also inspired a scene in which two of Alan's friends (played by Roy Barraclough and Paul Copley)[15] vie to be his best man.[8] A teenage version of Alan is portrayed in flashback by Nico Mirallegro.[14]

Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker star as Caroline and Gillian, the respective daughters of Celia and Alan. Each saw similarities between herself and her character. Lancashire identified with Caroline's being "a working woman trying to keep everything under control", whilst Walker identified with Gillian's tendency to speak before thinking things through and her deep love for her father.[3]

Nina Sosanya plays Caroline's lover Kate, and Tony Gardner and Ronni Ancona appear as Caroline's husband, John, and John's lover, Judith, respectively. Gillian's brother-in-law, Robbie, is played by Dean Andrews. Josh Bolt plays Gillian's son Raff. Sacha Dhawan plays Paul Jatri, a youth with whom Gillian has been having a sexual relationship. Edward Ashley and Louis Greatorex play Caroline's teenage sons William and Lawrence, respectively.[14][15][16][17][18][19]


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.[20] The second series began filming in July 2013.[21] Filming also took place 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.[22] In September the University of York supplied ten students from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television to work as extras on the series.[23]

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. Filming for the third series has been filmed in the town centre of Bolton. [24]

Episode list[edit]

Series 1 (2012)[edit]

No. Title Directed by Written by Ratings (in millions)[25]
Sourced by BARB; figures show consolidated audience of first showing.
Original airdate Europe airdate
1 "Episode 1" Euros Lyn Sally Wainwright 7.034 20 November 2012
Recently widowed Celia Dawson (Anne Reid) contacts Alan Buttershaw (Derek Jacobi) — a former romantic interest whom she has not seen in 60 years — on the social networking site Facebook. Celia's daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire) is surprised by the revelation, though distracted by her own romantic problems involving her adulterous husband (Tony Gardner) and her own affair with a female colleague, Kate (Nina Sosanya). Alan and Celia meet in Skipton and immediately rekindle their friendship. Celia's car is later damaged in pursuit of a young man who stole Alan's vehicle. Caroline and Alan's daughter Gillian (Nicola Walker) clash on first encounter after rushing to collect their parents; both are shocked to discover that Alan and Celia plan to marry.
2 "Episode 2" Euros Lyn Sally Wainwright 6.779 27 November 2012
Caroline is worried her affair with Kate may become public knowledge as she considers taking back her adulterous husband John. Widowed Gillian, meanwhile, continues a reckless sexual relationship with Paul (Sacha Dhawan), a man half her age. Alan and Celia enjoy the new lease on life they have discovered and decide to buy a new sports car as an engagement present to each other. As the families come together to celebrate the Alan and Celia's engagement, Gillian's son Raff (Josh Bolt) is arrested for assaulting Paul, whilst Caroline's son William (Edward Ashley) reveals that John is still in contact with his lover Judith (Ronni Ancona).
3 "Episode 3" Euros Lyn Sally Wainwright 7.508 4 December 2012
A badly beaten Paul moves in with Gillian, whilst her son Raff moves in with his father's brother Robbie (Dean Andrews), who blames Gillian for her husband's death. Meanwhile, Caroline quarrels with John and is overheard by Alan and Celia. Caroline confesses to Kate that she finds it difficult to express her emotions honestly. Alan and Celia begin looking at wedding venues. A Church of England vicar discourages them from having a church wedding, as neither party has attended services in more than 30 years. Celia and Alan discuss politics and religion, and the liberal Alan is surprised by Celia's conservative views. They visit a stately home in Southowram (Southowram Hall[26]) as a possible wedding venue but become locked inside overnight.
4 "Episode 4" Sam Donovan Sally Wainwright 7.334 11 December 2012
Alan and Celia spend a night in Southowram Hall. Gillian and Caroline are unable to make contact with their parents, neither of whom has a mobile phone signal. Gillian's worry prompts Raff and Robbie to visit, and they become closer. Caroline spends the night at Gillian's whilst awaiting news of Alan and Celia, and the two women bond over their fears and their respective problems with children and partners. Paul works out that Alan and Celia may have been visiting Southowram Hall, and the police eventually find them. Caroline grows frustrated with John and admits to seeing an unnamed other.
5 "Episode 5" Sam Donovan Sally Wainwright 7.492 18 December 2012
Alan confides his darkest secret to Celia: that when Gillian's less-than-ideal husband Eddie attempted suicide, he did not die immediately, and she refrained from calling an ambulance; because he did not tell that to the police, Alan holds himself partly responsible for the man's death. Under the influence of alcohol, Gillian sleeps with the troubled John. Caroline meanwhile, prepares to go public about her lesbian relationship with Kate. Whilst William had suspected the relationship and is happy for her, Lawrence (Louis Greatorex), Caroline's younger son, is upset and confused. Caroline's birthday evening with Kate and her two sons is ruined by the arrival of an extremely drunk Judith, who ends up in accident and emergency. John discovers that Caroline is seeing Kate, and informs Celia.
6 "Episode 6" Sam Donovan Sally Wainwright 7.480 19 December 2012

Celia refuses to accept Caroline's relationship with Kate; her homophobic views shock Alan, who implores her to give Kate a chance. Celia agrees to meet Kate at a dinner party hosted by Caroline. However, Celia's bigotry and hostility towards Kate ruins the evening, leading Alan to call off the wedding and driving a wedge between Caroline and Kate. Caroline and Celia have a blazing row, trading insults and expletives. Celia realises that her behaviour had made her daughter unhappy and visits Kate, apologising for her own behaviour and imploring Kate to give Caroline another chance. Alan, meanwhile, suffers a heart attack. Celia realises that she may have lost everything and rushes to his bedside. They reconcile and decide the wedding will go ahead. The first series ends with a flashback to 60 years ago, showing the teenage Alan asking Celia on a date, just as the present-day Alan regains consciousness.

Between the end of the episode and the closing credits, a dedication to Alec Walker (1929–2009), who inspired the character of Alan Buttershaw, is shown.

Series 2 (2013)[edit]

No. Title Directed by Written by Ratings (in millions)[25]
Sourced by BARB; figures show consolidated audience of first showing.
Original airdate
7 "Episode 1" Euros Lyn Sally Wainwright 7.42 19 November 2013[27]
Alan recuperates in hospital from a heart attack, at the end of the previous series. Meanwhile, Gillian is contacted by John, who claims he's falling in love with her. Unsettled, Gillian confesses to Caroline that she had a one night stand with John. Alan and Celia decide to get married as quickly as possible, with minimum fuss, and book an appointment at the register office. After finding out about Gillian's sexual encounter with John, Alan tells her that both he and his late wife were ashamed of her morals, mentioning an abortion she had at age fifteen. At the end of the episode Gillian discovers Alan and Celia's appointment card for the register office on the morning of their wedding.
8 "Episode 2" Euros Lyn Sally Wainwright 7.60 26 November 2013[28]
Alan and Celia get married, persuading two passersby to act as witnesses. Gillian turns up at the register office and expresses her feelings of hurt and rejection at not being invited to the ceremony. She is convinced that Alan and Celia think less of her than Caroline's family because of their differing social class. Caroline seeks to secure funds to buy John out of their house. To achieve this she needs financial support from both Celia and Kate, and asks Kate to move in with her. Kate tells Caroline that, because she is nearing her 42nd birthday, she wants a baby of her own before it is too late. Gillian discovers that Raff's girlfriend Ellie is eight months pregnant. Alan and Celia arrive to provide support, and after Ellie goes into labour, Alan welcomes a great-granddaughter.
9 "Episode 3" Euros Lyn Sally Wainwright 5.96 3 December 2013[29]
Maurice (Roy Barraclough) is hurt by Alan's marrying on the quiet and not inviting his friends. Later, Celia relays to Robbie that Gillian had an abortion at the age of fifteen; he realizes it was his child she aborted, causing fractures in their relationship. Meanwhile, Kate tells Caroline she has chosen her friend Greg as a sperm donor, while Alan and Celia plan to buy a bungalow. With Robbie absent, and Raff and Ellie neglecting the baby, Gillian is left to look after her granddaughter. John arrives to support her, and she tells him of her doubts about Robbie's suitability for her, given the fact she did not take the necessary action to prevent Eddie's death. Alan tells Celia that Gillian had actually killed Eddie with a block of wood following Eddie's apparent suicide attempt.
10 "Episode 4" Jill Robertson Sally Wainwright 7.15 10 December 2013[31]
Alan muses about whether or not the coroner's verdict of suicide regarding Eddie was correct. On what was supposed to be a romantic, birthday weekend getaway[30] Kate is angered by Caroline's having booked two single rooms, reflecting Caroline's continuing reluctance to publicly acknowledge her and Kate's relationship. Kate and Greg reminisce about their university days, excluding Caroline, and Caroline reacts badly. Kate tells her the next morning that she believes Caroline is too old to change, and their relationship is over, having never properly started. Judith arrives at Gillian's and accuses John of plagiarism, as his novel was inspired by her idea to write a novel based on Celia and Alan's romance. John's infatuation and one night stand with Gillian is revealed in front of Robbie, inciting Robbie to punch John and walk out again. At Caroline's, Celia and Alan deal with a drunken Lawrence and a shaken William, who has been assaulted at a cashpoint. Alan is devastated by the news of Maurice's sudden death. At the wake, he and Celia decide to marry a second time so that this time they can share the day with family and friends.
11 "Episode 5" Jill Robertson Sally Wainwright 7.06 17 December 2013[32]
Three months after the previous episode, William leaves for university, and Lawrence tells his mother he wants to live with his dad, who is now co-habituating with a pregnant Judith. Gillian is jealous of Robbie's new partner, Cheryl. Kate reveals she is twelve weeks pregnant; though Caroline is restrained in her presence, she is later overcome with emotion. Gillian volunteers her and Caroline's services to plan Alan and Celia's second wedding. Alan and Celia visit Celia's estranged sister Muriel, whom Celia fell out with when Muriel married Celia's love interest. After a day out together researching the wedding, a drunken Gillian tells Caroline she deliberately killed her husband and staged his suicide, as she could take no more of his abuse and feared he'd one day kill her.
12 "Episode 6" Jill Robertson Sally Wainwright 7.39 24 December 2013[33]
Caroline promises Gillian she will keep her secret. Caroline implores Kate to give her another chance and let her learn from her mistakes, but the latter refuses. When Kate is rushed to hospital, Caroline drops everything to check that she and the baby are safe and well. Alan visits his first wife's grave and talks about Celia, seeking her blessing. In the days before the wedding, Alan's brother Ted makes a surprise appearance from New Zealand. At Alan's stag party, Alan and Raff encourage Robbie to pursue Gillian, as they believe they are right for each other. Meanwhile, Celia puts her differences with Muriel behind her and tells her of her own unhappy first marriage. The wedding takes place on Christmas Eve, with Kate playing piano upon Celia's request, and Caroline taking on the traditional duties of the bride's father. At the wedding dance, Gilliam flirts with Robbie, whilst Kate returns to the party and asks Caroline to dance. Caroline accepts, and the two women commit to each other before kissing passionately on the dance floor. The episode ends with Kate and Caroline, and Alan and Celia happy together, whilst John sits miserably in Judith's squalid flat, and Gillian demonstrates second thoughts upon waking up with Robbie.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

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.[34] 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.[35] Consolidated figures released by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) revealed that the series première achieved a consolidated rating of 7.034 million viewers,[25] whilst the finale had 7.480 million.[25] The overall series average in terms of viewing figures was 7.210 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.[36] In September 2013, the series began airing on the American broadcast television network PBS.[37]

Critical reception[edit]

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.[38] 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 for the Elderly & Beautiful (2012).[39] 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",[40] Andrew Anthony of The Guardian had his "low expectations ... squarely confounded", giving particular praise to the dialogue and the central performances.[10] 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".[41] 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".[42]

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".[43] 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".[44] 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".[45]


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.[46] Additionally, Wainwright was named best Drama Writer at the 2013 British Academy Television Craft Awards for her writing of the series.[47] 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.[48] 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.[citation needed]

Possible adaptations[edit]

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.[49] 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.[49] 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.[50] In April 2014, it was reported that the series would be remade for French television by BBC Worldwide France and the production company NEWEN.[51]


  1. ^ Calculated by combining the individual viewing figures for each episode, sourced from the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (7.034 million, 6.779 million, 7.508 million, 7.334 million, 7.492 million, 7.480 million)[25] and dividing by six.


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