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TV Review: Years and Years

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Whenever Russell T Davies writes a new drama you can be sure it will be landmark television.

Image Credit: BBC

Davies is the finest writer in television - he brought us classics like Queer as Folk, The Second Coming, and Casanova. He made a name for himself as a fearless and peerless craftsman who broached subjects nobody else would touch, from homosexuality to drug use and religion, and whose character work was layered and complex. He brought back Doctor Who in 2005 to critical acclaim and has since gone on to pen more hits, including Cucumber and A Very English Scandal.

Davies’s most recent drama, for the BBC, is another triumph. Years and Years is an accomplished, mature, emotional, and irreverent look at the next ten years. A saga following the Lyons family through the political and technological upheavals of the near future, from the present day onwards, it masterfully combines the epic and the intimate; a combination Davies has always excelled at. We are privy to the betrayals and difficulties of family life in a future where myriad political, social, and economic catastrophes occur regularly.

Comprising only six episodes, it could have done with more space to breathe, covering as it does a huge span of time and a lot of events, both personal and political, but Davies’s craftsmanship is so effective that in such a short amount of time we feel a connection to these well-drawn characters and their travails, and the world Davies creates feels incredibly real and rooted, disturbingly, in current, real events.

There are so many standout performances in this show that it would be impossible to give everyone equal space here. Perhaps the most moving performances were those of Russell Tovey and Maxim Baldry as Daniel Lyons and Viktor Goraya respectively. Daniel works to house asylum seekers and refugees, where he meets the Ukrainian Viktor, who has fled his country after being reported by his parents for being gay. Their story ends in tragedy, as Viktor is deported and Daniel, chasing after him to bring him back, ends up dead on a beach after a perilous crossing of the English Channel in a tiny boat crowded with the desperate and the weary.

Rory Kinnear is also excellent as Stephen Lyons, who, blaming Viktor for his brother’s death, uses his position in a property company to move Viktor to an Erstwhile site - these are secret concentration camps set up for refugees by the monstrous Prime Minister Vivienne Rook, who is portrayed chillingly by Emma Thompson in another standout performance.

Image Credit: BBC

The finale sees the surviving members of the Lyons family teaming up with victims of Rook’s policies to rescue Viktor and expose the truth of what the Prime Minister is doing. Stephen is redeemed, and the regime brought down. But as Edith Lyons (Jessica Hynes) says in the closing moments of the final episode, she and her family were not heroes and were not special - they just helped, along with countless other people, to stand up for what was right and just.

The family matriarch, Anne Reid, gives a talented performance as Muriel Deacon. Her monologue at the beginning of the final episode is perhaps a summation of the series’ main theme. She tells the Lyons family, gathered around her table, that this future (by the final episode we are in 2029) was all their fault. It was everyone’s fault. We all saw what was happening - the financial crashes, the wars, the demagogues and clowns reaching for power - and we let it happen. So the rescue of Viktor and exposure of the camps is an act of redemption. No longer will the Lyons family sit passively as the world goes rotten, but they will do their part.

And so we must do something: that is the message Davies is giving us. We are all, each and every one of us, responsible for the future. It is irresponsible to shrug this off as if we are powerless to effect change. Each person must do their part, however small, whether writing letters of complaint to companies laying off workers in favour of automation or protesting in the streets against injustice. Only then can we avoid the chilling future laid out in Years and Years.

In short, Years and Years is mature and layered, with excellent writing and acting, great music by Murray Gold, some excellent in-jokes for Doctor Who fans (erstwhile! Mercury links!) and is one of those triumphs of television that will stick in the mind for a long time to come. Another Davies drama, another classic. If you have not yet seen it, you're missing out on a masterpiece. 

All six episodes of Years and Years are on BBC iPlayer now.

Lead image credit: BBC




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