Russell T. Davies returns to a BBC prime-time slot with this glorious sci-fi drama set in the near future. Filled with heartwarming moments, some inventive concepts and prolific political commentary, Years and Years is a longitudinal family drama. Following the Mancunian Lyons family, the four adult siblings and their respective families navigate life in the 2020s.
Through the first two episodes of this new series we speed through five years watching relationships being made and fall apart, children grow and the world slowly change. Until 2024, where we take our first breather and are able to properly check in with these characters. Whilst this form of storytelling may appear on fast-forward for some, its an interesting way of advancing character development whilst maintaining drama within the story. Rather than this be a long-form narrative, which would be difficult to do within the constraints of only six episodes, we’re able to check in on the family at various stages of their lives. A brilliant touch was the inclusion of real news headlines from the day the first episode originally aired (May 14th, 2019) being included in the within the episode itself, playing out over the car radio, adding a profound sense of realism.
Former Doctor Who showrunner Davies delivers with a host of characters that are easily likeable and distinctive from one another. Russell Tovey in particular is a standout in his performance of Daniel, a gay housing officer who falls in love with one of the Ukranian refugees who resides in the camp he’s overseeing. Other familar faces to British audiences may also include Rory Kinnear, Jessica Hynes and Anne Reid, who plays the siblings’ brutally honest grandmother.
Academy award-winning actress Emma Thompson also has a supporting role, as provocative anti-establishment politician Viv Rook. She delivers a memorable performance for her character’s garish antics and political demonstrations. A particularly brilliant moment being when she offhandedly uses the F-word whilst seating the panel of Question Time. Unfortunately, her outlandishly inappropriate behaviour is reminiscent to that of numerous politicians in recent years.
At its core Years and Years is a family drama driven by the lives of its characters, however like all of us their lives are shaped by external forces they have no control over. The first couple of episodes show the scare of nuclear war and the beginnings of a crippling financial recession. Throw in granddaughter Bethany’s (Lydia West) trans-human obsession where she desires to have her consciousness uploaded to the Cloud, and it can kind of feel a little chaotic if still surprisingly believable.
However, one of the best aspects of this show is that in our current political climate nothing that occurs feels completely out the realm of possibility. What is initially depicted as a dystopian near-future is very much a realistic vision no matter how much we may dislike it. Trump securing a second term in office, the ice caps completely melting, refugee crises and the installation of extremist anti-establishment politicians could all very well be on the horizon within the next decade.
And this is why the concept of Years and Years works so well. Often science-fiction plays with broad ideas involving space, aliens and time-travel (see Davies’ previous works). Here though Davies has managed to utilise the chilling aspects of our own contemporary society and run with them, all the while maintaining a recognisable humour and compassion towards these characters. Filled with a stellar ensemble cast, chaotic montages featuring pounding euphoric music and on-the-nose social commentary, this may not be for everyone’s liking, but nevertheless it is compelling drama presented through a sci-fi lens.