BBC One's 'Years and Years': Abject fear and 2019

Photo: BBC

I just watched the first episode of Years and Years on BBC One, and I'd like to tell you a story.

It was the night of 17-18th July 2014. It had been a hot, muggy afternoon.

The news that day had been dominated by the downing of a passenger jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, over Ukrainian airspace.

I remember walking home from work looking at my phone and reading with a jolt that experts were saying it had been shot down by Russian forces. I remember vividly the moment of disbelief at the idea that a Dutch flight could be attacked by a fellow European country. It seemed unimaginable, and important in ways I wasn't sure I understood.

I spent that evening refreshing the news and feeling anxious about the state of the world.

Some time after I had gone to bed and been in a deep sleep for a while, I was awoken by a huge, bright flash at my window and the loudest bang I had ever - and have ever - heard. In the split second it took for me to be wide awake, I knew exactly what was happening.

A nuclear bomb.

I was living in central London and in the hours since I had last checked the news things must have escalated: we had become a target of someone.

It was the middle of summer so I was wearing a light nightshirt but no trousers. I leapt from my bed, ran across the room and pulled on the first pair of jeans I found. My heart was thumping, my head felt like it was screaming with a million thoughts, but I was also oddly calm because there wasn't a shred of doubt in my mind what the situation was.

World War Three had begun.

At the time I had a housemate who is intelligent and calm and rational, and I didn't want to be alone. As I ran up the short staircase to her room, huge particles thudded onto our landing's skylight window, making a sickening, unfamiliar noise.

Is that what nuclear fallout is?

I pounded on her door in an ever-increasing panic. She quickly opened it, beaming.

"Isn't it amazing!"

The window behind her was open, and the curtains danced in the wind. I couldn't fathom what she meant.

"The storm, it's brilliant, come and look!"

I took a step back, still not quite understanding. I looked across to the skylight, confused. Rain. Of course, rain. Huge, heavy drops finally loosed from the bloated clouds, dropping onto the glass each with a loud 'tap'. Through the window, more lightning was sparkling, more thunder rolling in.

In one sweeping moment, all my terror flowed out of me from the top of my head down through my feet like the floor giving way. The adrenaline made me feel like I was going to be sick.

It was the most frightening experience of my life.

It might sound funny now because it was just a thunderstorm, which - much like my housemate - I love to watch. But for maybe 40 excruciating seconds, I knew my life was over. I knew your life was over. I knew nothing would ever be the same in ways I couldn't even imagine. It wasn't fear, it was fact.

So that's the story.

We live in complicated times. There are countless things to be worrying about, and the whirring mind never runs out of topics to obsess over in the dead of night. Watching Years and Years felt like all my deepest anxieties had been wrung out and presented in front of me in the form of a remarkable television show with a fantastic cast.

The premise of the first episode is that it's our world, but five years into a theoretical future where things have carried on in much the same way as they have been over the last few years. Trump is president for a second term, a hateful populist politician (Emma Thompson!) is gaining ground in the UK, and technology is developing at an alarming rate - so far so Black Mirror.

For the first three quarters of an hour, it was merely yet another brilliant show from Russell T Davies, holding a mirror up to the horrifying present in which we find ourselves. Admittedly, there is far too much going on, but that's hardly an unforgivable crime in a first episode that has a lot of world-building to do.

However, without giving anything away, the last ten minutes are some of the most viscerally atmospheric television I have ever seen. It took me right back to the raw, primal terror of that night in July 2014, in way that was almost physical. The writing, the acting, the direction, the music, the cinematography, the sound; it was overwhelming.

I have no idea where Years and Years will go from here, but this astonishing first hour is what I will show my grandchildren when they ask what it felt like to live in 2019.


Canary Wharf, East London, early morning on 18th July 2014
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28361254


(Lol, jk, as if the human race is surviving for two more generations...)

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