Review: ‘Years And Years’ Full Series

Film

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.

10 comments on “Review: ‘Years And Years’ Full Series”

  1. Colin says:

    I didn’t think the trailers before the first episode did it any favours at all and put a lot of people off. I thought it was a excellent and something different from the usual 9 pm drama. Everyone I asked seemed to have been put off by the trailer, a great shame.

  2. Debra Matheney says:

    Watching it in the States and references to Trump terrify me. If he is re-elected, God help us. Many of my fellow liberals have given up watching the news as too depressing, but I soldier on as I think we have to know. Is avoiding news a trend in Britain?
    Have only watched the first episode. I have been very concerned for years about the impact of technology on young people especially since they don’t have references to life before the internet and dreadful social media. This series shows what I fear.
    Trying to have happy 4th in spite of Trump’s militarization of the holiday.

  3. admin says:

    Debra, I had a great July 4th celebrating diversity and unity for #PrideInPublishing at Piccadilly Waterstones with 14 other amazing authors on stage – it’ll be interesting to hear what you think of the rest of the series.

  4. Rachel Green says:

    I can’t say I loved it, but I watched it compulsively. I hope it dates horribly but fear it will be the optimist of future Britain.

  5. eggsy says:

    I found much of this series difficult to watch – as you say, the subtlety of a brick. Possibly a case of the Beeb giving The Great Man too much freedom, rather than kicking the script around for a good editing. Some nice touches mind, such as the incidental introduction of the younger Lyon’s sister’s Special Feature, and the way the right-on parental behaviour disappeared when it was revealed the granddaughter’s identity issues were not gender-related, but techie. Beyond their comfort zone.
    Slightly troubled by getting Emma Thompson to “do Northern” for her demagogue. Felt anti-regionalist, as it were. Also the way in which RTD, through his characters, was unable to refute some of the anti-vaxer, anti-expert views flagged up(in the breakdown between Russell Tovey’s character and his husband). Although I think that might have been purposeful, in that we should all learn the validity of received wisdom, rather than adopt it unquestioningly which just gives room for the other “my opinion is as good as yours” views of climate change deniers, conspiracy theorists and the like.
    Anne Reid’s closing monologue, however, bought a lot of good feeling. “Here endeth the lesson”, indeed. We are fortunate to live in a democracy, so only have ourselves and our complacency to blame if it goes in the direction RTD indicates. Let’s hope that some of the intended audience of middle-class liberals pay attention.

  6. Jan says:

    Russell T Davies learned part of his craft on Coronation street. He was one of the writers in the early 90s. He was responsible for the story line of the romance between Curly and Raquel – which never quite happened cos she had fallen for Des Barnes the bookie.

    Now this might seem almost trivial perhaps comical to most readers here but it was brilliantly executed the whole story line. Towards the end of it all Raquel (Sarah Lancashire)runs down this cobbled alley and steps into this puddle which has moonlight reflected in it. Something sort of reminiscent of that poem about not treading on dreams in that moment. It was spare and cleanly done the whole story line in a capsule. Memorable- a tiny triumph in and of itself.

    What happens in the end to a writer like Davies who can pull that off? He buries himself in a massively overwrought project like “Years and Years” big and ambitious but ultimately flawed.

    BTW Classic Corry is on itv 3 each weekday afternoon. I started watching it last year when the weather was really that not you couldn’t comfortably stay o/s. This romance Des/Raquel/Curly is just about brewing up now. It’s wonderful as good a bit of tv writing as you’ll ever see. When I 1st got into Class Corry it was just to see Alan Bradley go under that tram @ Blackpool front. I just can’t tear myself away now. And I’ve watched it all once before. Oh dear.

  7. Jan says:

    That HOT bloody spell check drives me spare.

  8. John Griffin says:

    Just one correction: Farage isn’t an imbecile, he is that genuinely frightening article, the sociopathic fascistic bogus charmer, out for No.1 and the rewards of power. I worry he may be the new Darius Guppy for Johnson.

  9. SteveB says:

    Years and Years was at its weakest on the tech stuff.
    In the end I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the Jerrmy Thorpe thing. Too much preaching to the converted and no real depth of thought. That said little that he writes is ever really bad, just less good.
    Since I find Emma Thompson pretty loathsome anyway I had no problem loathing her character!!
    I assumed he was referencing Life with the Lyons?

  10. Wayne Mook says:

    Or he was Lyon it a bit think, sorry I’ll get my parasol.

    Wayne.

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