Creator Russell T. Davies’ near-future drama Years and Years has just wrapped up its six episode run in the UK, ahead of its HBO debut in the US. It’s been a terrifying blend of political, domestic and speculative drama taking us through 15 yeara of a single family from 2019 to 2034.
Focusing on the major life events of the Lyons family, siblings Stephen (Rory Kinnear), Daniel (Russell Tovey), Edith (Jessica Hynes) and Rosie (Ruth Madeley), their grandmother Muriel (Anne Reid) plus their partners and children. Each episode jumps ahead a few years as, in the background, an outspoken politician named Vivienne Rook (a genuinely frightening performance by Emma Thompson) rises.
Russell T Davies is no stranger to tackling controversial topics or pushing the boundaries of what television can show. From the groundbreaking Queer As Folk, the multi-channel format of Cucumber/Banana/Tofu and even the revival of Doctor Who. With Years and Years he blends his familiar showmanship with a sharp political message.
Davies shows us how, through incremental steps, liberal western democracies can turn soar and it’s been a frankly disturbing journey that had me questioning if I wanted to continue watching with each episode. When originally broadcast on the BBC, Years and Years was followed by the news and some evenings it was genuinely difficult to know when the show had ended and the real world politics and disasters had begun.
It’s best to avoid spoilers, but Years and Years is a wild ride that touches on dozens of modern topics; gay rights, refugees, populist politics, transhumanism, the state of Europe, the gig economy and simpler fare like family dynamics. Each episode goes places you won’t expect and is driven by some excellent performances (especially T’Nia Miller who plays Stephen’s wife, and Maxim Baldry as Daniel’s lover). It does occasionally dip in political polemics and drive the emotions home with an overbearing musical score that those who have seen Davies’ Doctor Who will be familiar with.
It’s not hard to get the message of the series, or see the parallels between Vivienne Rook and real life politicians like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage and the unsubtle look at how ignorance, complacency and neglect impact the world. But Davies is a master at entertainment, he laces the speeches with spoonfuls of sugar, big dramatic events and fascinating guesses at future technology to keep the audience hooked. Avoid spoilers and enjoy the rollercoaster that is Years and Years.
Years and Years premieres in the US on HBO on 24th June 2019, and the whole series is available to UK viewers on the BBC iPlayer.
By Chad Armstrong