“But you didn’t do anything, did you? 20 years ago … did you walk out? Did you write letters of complaint? Did you go and shop elsewhere? No, you huffed and puffed but you put up with it … we let it happen.”
Time flies, even when you are not having fun. Years and Years is a BBC and HBO joint-production British television drama series that outlines the life of the English Lyons family: Gran, her four grandchildren – Stephen, Edith, Daniel, and Rosie –, their respective partners, and their different offspring. While it may initially start in 2019, it follows their next 15 years – glancing into what could be all of ours.
A mashup of at least three different genres – kitchen sink drama, futuristic science-fiction and state-of-the-nation polemic – Russel T. Davies’ series does not give you much time to relax. But perhaps the series’ events can be best described as a mix of our past and present. With a refugee-crisis that leaves the nation in a very much apathetic and anti-immigrant mood; a banking crisis that takes all by surprise and impoverishes millions; technology capable of invading our deepest thoughts; and climate disaster causing constant flooding – the Lyons live through times that are not so different from our own.
And with the rise of the irresistible Vivienne Rook (played by Emma Thompson), a populist politician of the far right, we cannot help but be reminded of real-life politicians like Farage, Le Pen, and Trump. She dupes the public into becoming Prime Minister by tapping into the issues that scare them, radicalising her speech, and pretending to be one of them. She exploits each successive crisis in her favour before finally steering in a new era of authoritarian rule.
Worse than that is having to watch the characters act in their worst interests. Rosie, the youngest Lyons sibling, is hard up and in a wheelchair thanks to spina bifida, but also becomes Rook’s most passionate follower. But once Rook consolidates her power, Rosie finds herself imprisoned in her estate, a victim of the government’s social and ethnic cleansing.
One cannot help but care about the characters, believe in the futurist inventions created, and recognise the tensions that rise between the different family members as both political and personal tragedies hit them. Butterflies and bananas no longer exist, chocolate has become a luxury, and on the eve of his stepping down as US president in 2024, Trump casually sets off a nuclear weapon against China. If this were not enough to cause unease, the offhand way this information is transmitted to the viewers as the characters remain unaware of the significance of what is happening around them and to them serves only to cause everyone’s ball of dread to grow.
The show’s most terrifyingly brilliant quality is how, despite everything that happens to them, the Lyons family just carries on. Things that shocked the family at one point become normalised a couple years on. Years and Years serves more as a warning than just mere entertainment, and reminds us of works such as Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm by George Orwell, and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. But it can and it will. Davies is right, our current world is chaos, and the West is immune to none of it. We cannot let just another year go by.
“We can sit here, all day, every day, blaming other people, we blame the economy, and Europe, and the opposition, and the weather, and then we blame these vast sweeping tides of history like they’re out of our control. Like we’re so helpless and tiny and small. But it’s still our fault.”