Last Tango in Halifax: Get On This Show and its Late-in-Life Gay Lady Character

One great thing about having Netflix in the British Isles is that you find out there’s a lot more to BBC programming than Doctor What and Benadryl Cucumber. If you don’t have regular access to British television and you like television shows that feature lesbians who are not teenagers or Los Angeles residents, then you’re missing out. Let me introduce you to the fantastic show you’re sleeping on: Last Tango in Halifax.

Adorable darling imperfect perfect human beings, all of you.

Adorable darling imperfect perfect human beings, all of you.

Last Tango in Halifax is about a lot of different kinds of relationships — parents and children, lovers and ex-lovers, even brothers and sisters. All of the relationships are explored and fleshed out in really lovely and realistic ways, whether through dramatic turns or everyday human interactions. One of the best things about Last Tango is that the relationships themselves are some of the most compelling I’ve seen on television, and they’re also some of the most underrepresented. Ageism? Not on this show. An elderly couple as the central romance (and one of the most adorable and endearing on television today)? Absofruitly. A middle-aged lesbian couple that includes a woman of color? And how!

I could go on and on about all the little gems that make up this show, but I don’t want to give too much away. Instead, let me gush about how fantastic Caroline is, because Caroline is fantastic. It’s no secret that I have an extremely huge soft spot for high-powered lesbians in positions of authority who shut down dumb guys and know how to take charge. The more I think about it, the more I genuinely believe that the best thing we have in the queer community is a surplus of women who fit the HBIC category, and Caroline is a fantastic example of exactly that kind of lady. Oxford-educated smartypants, respected headmistress, and occasional hot mess of a person, Caroline is in her mid-forties and is the divorced mother of two boys. Her husband is cheating, but she’s also been having an affair with a female colleague. Her mother Celia, one half of the show’s main couple, has recently reunited with her childhood sweetheart, and this unconventional heartwarmer of a romance is a catalyst for Caroline to finally come out to her family and be open about her relationship. Celia doesn’t take it well, nor does Caroline’s ex-husband, and Caroline maintaining her Type A take-charge lifestyle while navigating the fragility of being in love and being a parent and being a daughter and being a human being is one of the best portrayed narratives on the show. Plus her relationship with Kate is genuine and sweet and complicated and hard, all of which is to say that it makes you want to tear your hair out in sympathy sometimes, which I think every decent show should inspire in its audience.

STARTED FROM THE BRITAIN NOW WE'RE QUEER

STARTED FROM THE BRITAIN NOW WE’RE QUEER

This show is important. How often do we get to see a late in life coming out story? It’s just plain necessary that narratives like these, especially ones that deal with motherhood and divorce and what it means to leave the closet after more than twenty years of knowingly inhabiting it, get told, and it’s even more important that they’re told well. Last Tango shows us so many things we rarely get the pleasure of seeing in our LGBTQ media, and it shows us in a way that’s compelling, brave, and endearing. I would dump all kinds of tea in my harbor to make sure all the queerios can have access to this little treasure.

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Full-time writer, part-time lover, freelancing in fancy cheese and cider.

Kate has written 131 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. Yep, that’s me too. 10 years of marriage, 2 kids, 35 yo and then… I went back to (literally) my first love : my second degree cousin who I was very much in love with when I was 13 to 15, who I had lost touch with for almost 20 years and who I didn’t know was gay. Turned out I really, really wasn’t bi after all and I immediately procedeed to tell everyone. Many of them didn’t care much for it.

    But boy was it complicated, and unfortunately often still is. I’m just very grateful we live on another continent than my family (our family, really, since we share one. ;-) )

    • And also, I miss the uk like crazy, so this show is going to have me crying in two seconds, but I’m quite sure I’m going to love every moment of it (the show, not the crying – well, maybe also the crying.)

  2. Oh my gosh is that Derek Jacobi??? Ahhh I am so watching this. I think it came up on my Netflix recs a few times, but you know how that is. You never watch everything. But wow, definitely watching this. Excited!

  3. “you like television shows that feature lesbians who are not teenagers or Los Angeles residents”

    It’s like you read my mind. The teenagers on tv now are cute and all, and maybe if they had been on tv when I was a teenager I would have figured a few things out earlier, but as it is, I don’t feel any real connection to those stories – or to the impossibly glamorous L Word world. I was closer to 30 than 20 when I came out, and I’m starving for stories about sorting out your identity and desires along with your career, family, and friends.

  4. Last Tango in Halifax is definitely an example of the BBC doing stuff right. Caroline is my favourite – she’s just amazing (and frequently hilarious) – but the show is full of well-rounded characters and compelling storylines. As a bonus, there are lots of nice gratuitous shots of rolling fields and sheep. Watch it!

  5. Obviously I need to figure out a way to watch this because this, to leave the closet after more than twenty years of knowingly inhabiting it, we need to see more of this.

    I know all the cool young queers are tired of coming out stories because they did that at 17 and eh, what’s the big deal, it’s 2014, but there are still some of us who didn’t, and we need stories that say we exist and maybe aren’t terrible people?

  6. Wow. Halifax is literally nine miles up the road from me and I have paid zero attention whatsoever to this programme (though I hear my mum enjoyed it…)!

    Thanks for adding a new series to my watch list :)

    • Get on it. Randomly watched it one day and loved it, so northern. It’s all my granny and I have in common. Weirdly given we don’t get on at all. However since watching it she has been less publicly homophobic!

  7. I think this is one of those shows were the plot (and the audience’s interest) is only sustained through increasingly dramatic plot-twists but there’s little character depth and the plot is (generally) predictable and cliche. I did binge watch the two seasons for this subplot and liked it, but the rest is a bit boring and I found myself fastforwarding through stuff I didn’t care about. There’s only two not-straight characters who are very isolated from any kind of lgbt / queer community (for example, they could’ve easily shown a fellow bisexual etc teacher coming up to Caroline and saying something supportive) and that always bothers me in tv shows because it feels like this is the Gay Subplot calculated to make the show appeal to as many different niches as possible.

    • So I watched the first season (which was all I could watch on Netflix), and wow by the end I really REALLY didn’t like Celia. I know it’s supposed to be this heartwarming thing where she gets her position changed and becomes more enlightened, but I was so angry at her for her initial reactions that I couldn’t even be bothered. I find this to be a problem in a lot of shows I watch: something usually happens that makes me so angry or sad or horrified that I can’t possibly move on from it or care about the rest of the story. I wonder if other people have this problem when they watch shows, or if you’re able to move on as the story moves on?

  8. i heart this show in a big way!

    PBS is re-playing all of the season 1 episodes – hopefully because they are gearing up to show season 2. it’s so great to re-watch it all over again. i feel for gillian and caroline, they’re my favorite characters.

  9. Seriously. Spoiler alert!

    Having just *literally* watched the first two episodes, I’m already hearting this show. Caroline’s monologue in the second episode is everything.

    The brilliant Nicola Walker will also warm your heart. If only for the plaid shirts she sports on many occasions.

  10. I love this show very much!

    Sarah Lancashire (who plays Caroline) just won a BAFTA for the second series! Third series starts filming in a couple of weeks. Whoop.

    Also, the writer of this show, Sally Wainwright, does put lesbians in most things she does – Scott and Bailey; At Home With The Braithwaites; and she even wrote for the eponymous UK women’s prison drama, Bad Girls.

  11. So I started watching this show to tune out the Hellscape we are living through, and everything was amazing because Caroline looks at Kate like she is going to jump her bones every second of the day and Kate is the most gorgeous tall lesbian to ever grace this fine earth.

    And then the last season is all homophobia and racism, but Caroline and Kate love each other so much and they are back together and everything is pure bliss and then ….. how dare you?

    Can someone explain to me why this last season is like this? Did they get a new white male show runner who wanted to punish the beautiful tall lesbians?

    I’m brokenhearted.

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