Life with the Lyons takes on a new dimension next week. Not sure how deliberate that is*? With Doctor Who in the past, Russell T Davies is back on primetime BBC1 with Years and Years, described an epic saga that takes an ordinary family and catapults them through the next 15 years. “As society changes, faster than ever, the Lyons will experience everything we hope for in the future, and everything we fear. They’ll fall in and out of love and grow old, fall apart and come back together, while constantly looking forward.”
Each episode moves a year or two ahead, following the lives of Daniel (Russell Tovey), Stephen (Rory Kinnear) and his wife Celeste (T’Nia Miller), sisters Rosie (Ruth Madeley) and Edith (Jessica Hynes), Gran Muriel (Anne Reid) and the family’s children, as they navigate a world made unstable by politics, the economy and technological advances.
“But this isn’t a dark, fearful show. It’s full of wit, warmth, and hope,” say the Beeb. “Years and Years is about family. It shows how we survive against the backdrop of a political world in which you can’t tell right from left any more. The tone is fierce, funny, heartbreaking and, ultimately, shows one family’s determination to survive the future.”
Davies seems to have regained the effervescent enthusiasm that he had for the Time Lord. “It’s been boiling away in my mind for a long time,” he says. “But over the past few years the world itself seems to have been boiling faster and hotter and wilder than ever. I mean, the age, today, just seems fevered - we’re either more political, or more scornful of politics, than ever. And I think, in the past, politics meant the economy to most people, but now we’re seeing that it’s our identity at stake. So I had to write this fast, before someone else did! And we’re transmitting it as fast as we can before the stuff in the script actually happens!”
You might recall that in Doctor Who, Nicola McAulliffe played Vivien Rook, a Sunday Mirror journalist who dared to probe beneath the facade of Harold Saxon (his acolyte Anne Widicombe is standing in the forthcoming EU elections. I presume Mortal D will be ticking her box). Rook met an unfortunate demise at the hands of the Toclafane, something that triggered an email to Torchwood.
In Years and Years, Davies introduces Vivienne Rook, played by Dame Emma Thompson. “The series follows the Lyons family, while in the background huge shifts in politics and the very nature of Great Britain take shape,” he says. “So that rising tide needs a figurehead. It needs to be personal, it needs a name and a face and a character. Enter Mrs Rook! And when you make her one of Britain’s finest actors, then the whole idea ignites. I hope people will be fascinated by Viv. She’s a maverick, she’s a danger, she’s a wildcard. And she’s also very, very clever - much cleverer than she first appears.”
Thompson shares his enthusiasm. “What an amazing guy and what an extraordinary writer,” shew says of Davies. “His writing is absolutely the level of George Orwell. It’s extraordinary, the way in which he’s imagined the future of our relationship with AI, and it has so many shades of all the best science fiction writing.
“It’s so chilling, the inexorability in how Vivienne’s vision becomes a reality and the fact that in the beginning many members of the Lyons family think she’s great. They think that somehow there’s decency and humanity there, when actually it’s a will to power and someone who clearly has no moral fibre whatsoever. It’s terrifying.”
* Between 1950 and 1961, Life with the Lyons ran on radio and then television in the UK. It is widely regarded as the first British sitcom although its stars Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels were American. Writers included Bob Block who would later give us Robert’s Robots and the cult Rentaghost.