British near-future drama Years and Years, now available to binge on Showmax, is “2019’s most terrifying TV show,” and a “breathtakingly ambitious dystopian drama,” says The Guardian, which ranked it at #4 on their list of the 50 Best Shows of the year.
A collaboration between the BBC and HBO, Years and Years’ stellar cast includes two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson, who, along with co-star Russell Tovey (Being Human, Quantico, Looking), was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s Critics Choice Awards, where the show was also up for Best Limited Series.
The six-part series kicks off in 2019 and follows the Lyons family – grown siblings Daniel, Stephen, Edith and Rosie, along with their partners, children and grandmother Muriel – over 15 fateful years in the fictional near-future of a Britain rocked by political, economic and technological upheaval.
“The age, today, just seems fevered – we’re either more political, or more scornful of politics, than ever.” – Creator and writer Russell T Davies
The series boasts an 8.4/10 score on IMDb and an 89% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Years and Years is “among the most emotionally involving and best series to air so far this year” said Variety. Washington Post also rated it among the best shows of the year, praising its triumph in “personalizing a global sense of doom… One of the ingenious aspects of Years and Years is how it taps into today’s alarming lack of expected consequences, particularly where political leadership is involved.”
“The show humanises the bad news cycle – one that sees the shocking morph into the status quo on a daily basis – … by creating rounded characters that draw empathy, outrage and horror from our increasingly hardened hearts,” The Guardian says.
Years and Years is created and scripted by Emmy-nominated writer Russell T Davies (who wrote A Very English Scandal, rebooted Dr Who, and created both Torchwood and the British version of Queer as Folk) and directed by BAFTA winner Simon Cellan Jones (Our Friends in the North, Ballers, The Expanse).
“Over the past few years the world itself seems to have been boiling faster and hotter and wilder than ever,” says Davies. “The age, today, just seems fevered – we’re either more political, or more scornful of politics, than ever. 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!”
In addition to Thompson and Tovey, the cast includes BAFTA-winning comedy actress, writer and Spaced co-creator Jessica Hynes and BAFTA nominees Anne Reid (Last Tango in Halifax, Sanditon), Rory Kinnear (The Imitation Game, Penny Dreadful, Skyfall) and Ruth Madeley (The Rook, The Watch).
Thompson plays Vivienne Rook, who she describes as “an independent politician who speaks her mind and becomes incredibly popular because she’s very forthright.” Although Vivienne hovers at the periphery of the main characters’ lives, she’s an ever-present and growing menace, the voice of the powers that be as the country – and the world at large – spirals out of control, and faceless policies formulated in boardrooms and cabinet meetings have direct, and dire, consequences for the Lyons family.
“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,” says Thompson. “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.”
“I hope [the show] will really provoke debate because it’s a discussion that we need now.” – Emma Thompson
“If you give that kind of rhetoric air time, it proliferates, because people find it a lot easier to hate and discriminate than they do to include and to feel compassion and empathy about people who aren’t directly related to them,” says Thompson. “It’s easy to scare people into feeling loathing; we’ve seen it happen again and again.”
Thompson compares Davies’ writing to that of George Orwell, who wrote 1984 and Animal Farm. “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… I hope it will really provoke debate because it’s a discussion that we need now,” she says.
Los Angeles Times calls Years and Years “a long, raw scream in the face of current events, even as it offers smart, superior entertainment – a marshmallow toasted over a burning world.”
Nonetheless, Thompson hopes viewers will take away the message that “there’s always hope, because it’s a story about human beings. Whenever we go into a dark era, we know that the only way is to get better, and it will get better.”
Davies agrees. “I think we have a laugh to survive, to cope, to express our love. And I wanted this to be a warm, hopeful series. Some terrible things happen to the Lyons, but they live and they love and they find ways to survive.”