Review: Years and Years is a bleak projection shot through with brilliant imagination
This time-travelling series by the outrageously gifted Welsh writer Russell T. Davies takes us into the chillingly plausible near-future, where a sloganeering entrepreneur Viv Rook (played with a killing mix of media savvy and moral chill by Emma Thompson) weasels her way into 10 Downing Street and brings her version of the Final Solution to the refugee problem.
It’s not just the UK that is in thrall to moral darkness. The series gives us a Trump second term and then a Mike Pence in office, a China on the rise and nuclear strikes against some of the new islands that the Chinese have created in the Pacific as strategic bridgeheads.
The focus of the series is a fifteen year span in the lives of one Northern family, the Mancunian Lyons (with more than a Churchillian hint of stoical English lions) who span the generations, from redoubtable gran, Muriel (portrayed with seen-it-all sangfroid by Anne Reid) through two brothers Steve (Rory Kinnear), a financial adviser before the banks crash and Daniel (Russell Tovey) a housing officer trying to deal with the new wave of Ukrainian refugees to, in turn, an array of younger kids.
Daniel meets and falls in love with one of the refugees in his care called Viktor (Maxim Baldry) who is fleeing his homeland’s harsh anti-LBGT laws, and their tale has the greatest consequences as the political map of Europe throws up harder borders against migrants and the pair try to find a way of smuggling Viktor into the UK.
Then there is Edith (Jessica Hynes) a formidable and fearless campaigner who searches for the truth using any means at her disposal and without giving too much away her own story’s end is like being emotionally bludgeoned.
It’s a world where new technology continues to change both human employment and aspiration, with some people, such as Steve’s daughter Bethany (Lydia West) wanting to escape her body into a digital incarnation via implants and micro-chipping. This is ultimately facilitated by the Home Office, with the frightening consequence that the Government then owns her, an unsettling twist that makes 1984 seem somehow tame.
Meanwhile, automation steals Rosie (Ruth Madeley) of her catering manager’s job so she buys a fast food van but then a new zoning law comes into being that forces her off the road. Draconian measures then go even further, as estates such as the one where Rosie lives are classified as “criminal” and are fenced off, with curfews enforced by the growing armies of private security contractors. Rosie, who has spina bifida also sees the world change completely when scientists find a cure, too late for her.
The series does have some flaws, not least of which is the fact that the world changes hugely but the characters don’t seem to age in tandem but one forgives those oversights because of the sheer ebullience of the storytelling and Russell T Davies’s ringmaster’s skills when it comes to pulling together the TV circus of a six-parter.
His kitchen sink drama meets dystopian disaster movie is a bleak projection shot through with brilliant imagination and piercingly good dialogue but luckily the darkness of the series is leavened by his trademark humour, not least when Rosie finds that a new date has another, more regular lover being a robot with sex attachments.
The creator of Queer as Folk, Doctor Who, Wizards vs Aliens and Torchwood has once again proved himself to be one of the most compelling storytellers of the small screen. Let’s pray that what he sees in his crystal ball doesn’t also make him an oracle.