They say that the truth can be stranger than fiction so it’s no wonder the BBC have created a new series that is so close to the bone you’d be forgiven for thinking it was real.
It could well be. It still might.
The six-part drama, launched in the UK in May ostensibly follows a sprawling British family as they navigate the increasingly bizarre political upheaval that is currently in full swing here.
Historically it’s been easy to separate ourselves from the news. No matter what happens, usually we assume that, by and large, our lives won’t be much effected.
Sure we get a new government, maybe our taxes change, maybe they implement incomprehensible foreign policies. Yadda yadda.
But in the last few years the news has captivated the nation. Seldom a day goes past where something mad doesn’t occur politically.
It’s become farcical. We are no longer surprised when the government say or do something we’d have found unbelievable just ten years ago.
And that’s terrifying in itself. That we’ve become numbed to the madness of the world.
It’s happened quickly, but not quickly enough to be overwhelming. We’ve been gradually lead down the mother of all garden paths and the garden at the end is not Eden.
And then Years and Years hits you in the face with it all at once.
The terrifying consequence of reality
‘I did talk about the ice caps melting but there’s no point anymore, they’re gone.’ — Edith, Years and Years
It’s so painful to hear these words spoken, almost inevitable at the current rate of decline.
The show provides dramatic montages of fictional news from around the world at regular points. The barrage of conflict and political upheaval is overwhelming but is it really all that fictionalised?
Imagine if someone created a montage of the news stories that have happened in the past couple of years. Natural disasters, political crises, violent protests, monumental governmental changes, epidemics, aircraft catastrophes, derailing trains, mass killings. All of this has happened.
There are two northern white rhinos left in the world. The western black rhino was declared extinct in 2011. There’s a phrase that says, ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ — but are there?
Years and Years starts now — in 2019 — and follows the family for fifteen years into the future. A future carefully constructed by the writers to be both absolutely believable and entirely possible.
A world where our borders all but close, where nearby countries re-criminalise homosexuality and American/Chinese turf wars over disputed islands escalate to nuclear levels.
It shows a world of propaganda-filled elections no more extreme than what we have seen in recent years and the collapse of major banks — again, hardly a stretch of the imagination. We’ve seen it before. It happened in 1929 and it happened in 2008.
Everything that happens within Years and Years requires zero mental leap and that’s what makes it so terrifying. It’s showing us our future and it’s very convincing.
— — SPOILER ALERT — If you haven’t seen it and want to, you might not want to keep reading — —
It digs its fingers in too
When several banks collapse in the second episode, the wealthy son Stephen and his family are plunged into massive financial crisis. They sold their house but kept the proceeds in one bank, planning to transfer them across other banks in the morning.
And then the bank collapsed. The FCSC protects individual accounts by institution up to £85,000 (true in reality as well as in the show). They would’ve been fine if they’d spread those proceeds across multiple banks the moment they received them. But for waiting until the morning, they lost £2 million.
They were left with just £85,000 — an impossible sum to buy another house with.
These formerly well-off, middle class people are left reeling. And since Stephen was a banker — well — not much work there. Instead he begins working as a courier amongst eleven other part time, zero contract jobs.
His sister laughs when she hears he only has £85,000. To her that would be a vast amount. And so it goes — the collapse of the bank is the great leveller. For without wealth and in a country where unemployment is soaring, the disparity is lessened. Everyone is relatively poor.
When you think about how secure you are, it’s money you’re counting on. But what happens if all that money is suddenly gone and your job along with it? In a single day, everything changes.
This is only a fraction of what happened in Syria. Many of the refugees that fled to Europe were wealthy, middle class people. They were doctors, teachers and lawyers. They were often the kinds of people that we would deem, here in Britain, to be ‘secure’.
But your profession means little when your country falls apart. When you become a refugee, you are often no wealthier than the next refugee — no matter what position you held, what money you had in a now inaccessible bank.
The biggest tragedy so far in Years and Years is the death of Daniel who drowns whilst crossing the English Channel, attempting to smuggle his fiancé Viktor back in the UK. He’d originally fled the Ukraine after they criminalised homosexuality to the UK, was then deported, fled again to Spain and watched as Spain’s own government fell to the extreme left.
Daniel goes to rescue him but through a horrific and utterly realistic set of experiences, they end up on a packed RIB crossing the stormy Channel. Viktor survives, Daniel — a white, British man — drowns.
And so it had to be. Because if Viktor had drowned, he’d be one of the many migrants who die crossing bodies of water to European countries that we see in the news all the time. All the time.
We’d be used to it. Sad, but broadly unmoved because they’re migrants. But because Daniel dies, we’re forced to remember that the only difference between migrants and us is that we have yet to experience the total decimation of our human rights.
We are the lucky ones. It’s a political stroke of fortune that we are not drowning out there, fleeing from one country to another with no passport, no money and no future.
It’s a punch in the stomach that we all need.
Years and Years is a terrifying spiral of completely possible happenings. It shows how events all over the world can impact our lives on an individual level. It shows why we need to stop being passive about our politics, our environment and our rights. How we should stop being passive about the rights of others, no matter where they’re from.
It’s a piece of televisual genius from Russel T. Davis and when you finish watching it and flick over to the real news — you might not know if you’re just watching the next episode or not.
Kitiara Pascoe is a ghostwriter and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon in the UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP and @TheLitLifeboat. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her journalism and blog at KitiaraPascoe.com or her ghostwriting at TheLiteraryLifeboat.co.uk