‘Years and Years’: An engaging and terrifying lesson in how to construct television drama

Years and Years plays upon our worst fears in what is a highly realistic near-future tale

“Years and Years”

by Russell T Davies

Starring Emma Thompson, Rory Kinnear, T’Nia Miller, Russell Tovey, Jessica Hynes, Ruth Madeley, Anne Reid, Dino Fetscher, Lydia West, Jade Alleyne and Maxim Baldry

I think that Russell T Davies might, in fact, be a magician. I mean, I suspected as much anyway; mainly from what he accomplished with Torchwood: Children of Earth. He’s always been unafraid to speak his mind through his craft, as can be seen through his series Queer as Folk and, perhaps lesser-known, Cucumber, Banana and Tofu. In what he has created in Years and Years, however, is unsurpassed in its intellect and smooth execution.

Years and Years tells the story of three generations of the Manchester-based Lyons family. There’s Stephen (Rory Kinnear), a financial advisor who lives in London with his wife Celeste (T’Nia Miller) and two daughters Bethany (Lydia West) and Ruby (Jade Alleyne), Daniel (Russell Tovey), married to Ralph (Dino Fetscher), aloof and unreliable political activist Edith (Jessica Hynes) and youngest sibling Rosie (Ruth Madeley), who is defined less by her disability, being a single mother, nor her two children, but more by her carefree and fun-loving nature. Presiding over all of this is grandmother Muriel (Anne Reid).

Over the course of the first hour, we journey into the near-future of 2024 and, through a commanding use of montage, see pivotal moments that occur in the world through the lens of the Lyons family. Donald Trump gains a second term in the White House; Elizabeth II dies; China begins to rise in power, and Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson) begins to make her political mark on England. Vivienne is an alarming mixture of figures who are alarmingly familiar to viewers, with a ballsy and acerbic attitude akin to Katie Hopkins, only more northern. What’s the most troubling about all the things presented to the viewer, amongst the small changes in technology and rising geopolitical tension, is that you can believe it to be true. In the wake of Brexit, as well as Trump’s successful election as President, the entire planet is questioning the morality of the rest of the public and the avenues down which they will tread. It is this fear and this terror that Davies taps into that proves to be a delightfully thought-provoking and forehead-sweating hour of entertainment.

Not only is the politics well-achieved, but Davies sticks with what he knows and tells this story through the lens of the Lyons family. They are featured within every scene, and by rooting it within the context of a three-dimensional and relatable family unit makes it all the more real and apparent to the viewer. While some of the technology is not yet apparent, you can physically see it happening within our lifetime. The family’s dynamic, in the way that they frequently talk to each other through Alexa-like devices also seems available in the not-too-distant future, as well as being something that I could see my own family engaging in while watching important news break.

The bone-chilling events that happen at the end of the episode shake viewers to their very core. I never thought that air raid sirens could be terrifying within the course of my life, but in the current political climate, such a conflict is only too likely to pass. I have no doubt in my mind that Russell will continue to unfold the rest of the series in an equally successful way as we follow the Lyons family throughout the next ten years as we explore the disastrous ramifications of these global politics. God have I missed English TV.

Years and Years is broadcast on BBC One. You can watch the first two episode on demand on BBC iPlayer. It airs on Tuesdays at 21:00.

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