Review: ‘Years And Years’ Full Series
It’s as subtle as a chucked brick but somebody needed to say this out loud, not give us another analogy.
Russell T Davies is, of course, A Good Thing. He’s been a driving force for clever, touching TV drama for so long that he’s become a national treasure, but don’t think he’s gone soft. His storylines for the revived ‘Doctor Who’ appealed to all, even adults, and were gently seditious, ‘Queer As Folk’ was a landmark series and his reimagined ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was a delight. Hailing from a soap opera background he lightly changed that form to be braver, more inclusive, more international (rather than London-centric) and more appealing.
So it comes as a shock to find him venturing into dystopic SF, an extrapolation of the present into what’s coming soon, set over the next fifteen years, in a six episode show about an extended liberal middle class family reeling from the shock of the new.
The story follows the Lyons family (a dual-edged pun) as they gather for the birth of the newest family member, Lincoln. On TV an outspoken celebrity (Emma Thompson) begins her transformation into a political figure whose ill-thought-out policies divide the nation. Britain is rocked by political, economic and technological advances; young Bethany wants more technology built into her skin and housing officer Dan (Russell Tovey) leaves his husband for a refugee, while his politicised sister becomes irradiated in a terrorist attack. Only resilient, selfish Gran (staunch Anne Reid) keeps the family from falling apart.
As the drama grows increasingly off-kilter the really unsettling scenes are moments we fear we might become familiar with all too soon – a frightening run on the high street banks in which brother Stephen (Rory Kinnear) loses his home and his savings in one panicked morning, shortages, floods, fenced off no-go areas. Soon smiling Emma is easing in policies that include outsourced technology and heightened security which results in…’Well, we don’t like to use the term ‘concentration camps’,’ she wisely points out.
Russell’s balancing act is extraordinary. He uses his characters to point out exactly how we’ve been deceived into lazily accepting material gain and technological upgrades we don’t need in return for corrupted world leaders who mislead and lie outright to gullible couch potatoes. It could all have been an exhausting, depressing polemic except, of course, that Davies is an optimist, and writes killer roles for women.
He also pulls off a number of dramatic coups, largely sidelining the technology and avoiding the ‘Black Mirror’ trap to appeal to the heart and mind. He includes a couple of genuine heart-in-mouth shocks and some generous speeches – proper monologues – one from Anne Reid about complacency and another from Rory Kinnear about the curse of being a liberal. ‘I’ve always been the man who says yes,’ he explains, yes to listening and obeying and doing what he’s told is right until one day it isn’t anymore. The dialogue is sometimes as subtle as a chucked brick but that’s because somebody needed to say it out loud, not give us another sodding analogy.
If the upbeat final scenes ring a little false it may only be because we’ve been led to expect the very, very worst. What’s clever is that Davies hand-walks us down the seemingly primrose path from sunny today to dark tomorrow, showing the erosion of everything we hold dear in crisp detail. The most awful part of this is that the drama is not a warning – it shows we’re already part-way there, and like the Sixth Extinction it is now too late to stop. We’re being repeatedly outraged by the gurning imbecile Nigel Farage, the clearly mentally disturbed Ann Widdecombe and the shocking image of Brexit henchmen turning their backs on a children’s chorus in deliberate imitation of the Nazi Party’s ‘backs turned’ photograph taken in the Reischstag. All we can do now is watch the news like the Lyons family, hang on tight, manage the damage and remember what caused it.
‘Years and Years’ must have been hated by the far right, but it wasn’t made for them. Yes, there are lessons for us all to heed, but first and foremost it’s a superb , memorable dramatic experience.