Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Get swept off your feet with tale of timeless love

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2Perhaps it's too quaint, a bit antiquated, and not in keeping with the hip/edgy/provocative nature of the current crop of boundary-pushing dramas that are the focus of most critical reviews these days. Maybe it's an adjective whose best years are behind it.

For today's TV column, however, it feels like just exactly the right word, because my goodness, Last Tango in Halifax is a lovely television program.

This new Brit-import drama, which premi®res Sunday at 8 p.m., on PBS, is as warm and charming and captivating and inspiring and, well, as lovely as any TV program could possibly be. It's a beautifully written and flawlessly performed celebration of the timeless nature of love, and it certainly deserves consideration in any discussion of this fall's best new prime-time programs.

Last Tango in Halifax stars Sir Derek Jacobi (The Borgias, The King's Speech) and Anne Reid (Upstairs, Downstairs) as Alan and Celia, a pair of widowed 70-somethings who courted briefly way back when they were teenagers in the early 1950s.

Each has secretly carried a torch for the other since a not-quite-random turn of events sent their lives spinning in separate directions, and now, fully six decades later, fate and luck and, thanks to their grandkids' prodding, Facebook have brought them back together.

At first, both Alan and Celia are a bit coy when they describe the new "pen-pal" relationship they've cultivated online. Perhaps it's a means to keep their meddlesome daughters from asking too many questions; more likely, however, the vague descriptions they each offer about this person they sort of think they might kind of remember from way back when are a gentle way of shielding their own hearts from disappointment should it turn out the other is, 60 years down life's winding road, either uninterested or uninteresting.

Secretly, however, each has vivid memories of the other and can't wait for an opportunity to meet face to face. And when they finally do, well, it's magic.

Because of their shared history, it can't be described as love at first sight, but what happens when Alan and Celia get together is something very special. There's a wonder and an unrestrained joy to the reunion, and the longer they talk, the more they're able to open up about the feelings they've harboured for each other all these years.

It doesn't take long for Alan and Celia to decide they belong together and that, given their ages, they should get down to the business of being in love as quickly as possible.

It also doesn't take long for their daughters -- Caroline (Sarah Lancashire), Celia's ambitious and tightly wound offspring, and Gillian (Nicola Walker), Alan's world-weary and too-young-widowed daughter -- to declare this newfound "love" as a trifle, a passing fancy that the silly old folks will soon leave behind.

There's nothing silly about it, of course. The silliness, and most of the sadness, in Last Tango in Halifax is found in the subplots involving the over-complicated lives of the younger folks. For Alan and Celia, what this is about is the endurance and endless possibilities of love.

The screenplay for this six-part series, written by Sally Wainwright, is a restrained and thoughtful masterpiece, but most of the credit for Last Tango's charm belongs to Jacobi and Reid, who fill each scene they share with perfect, wonderful moments.

There's a delicate intricacy to their work here; much of the acting they do involves close-ups in which each is reacting wordlessly to a thought or an feeling the other has unearthed or rekindled. Watching this pair of experienced hands explore their characters' emotions is a rare treat because every beat and every nuance is perfectly, genuinely delivered.

It's love, plain and simple. And it's lovely. Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2013 G10

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