The Years and Years cast explain why the series is like Black Mirror but “less dystopian”

Despite overlaps between their cast and characters, and a focus on terrifying future technologies, the BBC1 and Netflix shows have some striking differences

Years and years/ Black Mirror

On the face of it, Russell T Davies’s upcoming BBC series Years and Years sounds very Black Mirror.

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Following a family from the decade and a half between 2019 to 2034, the six-part show is set to delve into the “mad society” of the near future, featuring technology that – without giving away spoilers – could have come straight out of the Netflix anthology series.

However, according to the cast of Years and Years, there are major differences between the two shows.

“[Years and Years is] not about gadgets and robots, although they make an appearance,” said star Rory Kinnear – who also starred in the first Black Mirror episode (AKA the one with the pig) – speaking at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival.

“It’s very much rooted in the family life of the Lyons family in Manchester. And in that way it’s TV that feels familiar and rooted. But what’s fascinating, terrifying and wonderful about the future in Years and Years is that it’s all based in plausibility.

“I’ve not felt as excited about a TV project as this since Black Mirror.”

“With [certain technology – spoiler!] in the show, it reminded me of [Black Mirror writer] Charlie [Brooker’s] visions of the future. I guess, though, this is less dystopian than Black Mirror. This is very much based in our now and our world.”

Director Simon Cellan Jones also downplayed the role of technology in the series: “Of course, Years and Years shows some technology changes. But as we said in pre-production: the world hasn’t changed that much in the past ten years.

“We celebrated not embracing the Black Mirror factor or the dystopian or technology factors.”

The cast of Years and Years (L-R): Daniel (Russell Tovey), Ruby (Jade Alleyne), Edith (Jessica Hynes), Rosie (Ruth Madeley), Muriel (Anne Reid), Stephen (Rory Kinnear), Celeste (T'nia Miller), Bethany (Lydia West)
The cast of Years and Years (L-R): Daniel (Russell Tovey), Ruby (Jade Alleyne), Edith (Jessica Hynes), Rosie (Ruth Madeley), Muriel (Anne Reid), Stephen (Rory Kinnear), Celeste (T’nia Miller), Bethany (Lydia West)

However, there is a character who bears many similarities to Black Mirror’s Waldo, the raucous anti-establishment cartoon bear who rises to power in season-two episode The Waldo Moment. Vivienne Rook, Played by Emma Thompson with a Mancunian accent, is an ultra-populist politician and one of Years and Years’ most prominent – and dangerous – figures.

But as much as Waldo was based on Boris Johnson, Rook has her roots in political figures from Trump to Farage. “[She’s modelled on] all of them!” writer Russell T Davies explained to RadioTimes.com.

“There’s a whole generation of tricksters learning how to use social media, how to use the television, how to say whatever they like in public as long as it entertains us.

“It’s a very dangerous state of affairs we’re in. Anyone trying to talk with any nuance is just discarded now. Everyone who talks with a great big gag for a headline gets to be our next prime minister! It was time to write about that.”

He added: “We’re actually racing to get Years and Years on air because it’s so topical! The BBC’s taken a look at what we’ve got and said: ‘Get this on air now!’.

“For instance, for the show I invented a Russian invasion of Ukraine with a whole load of refugees entering the UK. At Christmas, their gunboats started tussling with each other and we were all watching it thinking ‘oh my god, this is happening!’”

In other words, Years and Years is set to serve up a strong Black Mirror flavour alongside an even more real-world plot. Which doesn’t sound terrifying at all.

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Years and Years will air this Spring on BBC1