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‘It’s our fault. It’s your fault’: Anne Reid's Years and Years speech and TV's greatest monologues

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Anne Reid and Jon Hamm
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Anne Reid and Jon Hamm Credit: Luke Varley/Matt Squire/Ron Jaffe/BBC Three/Red Productions/AP

There were big explosions and toppled tyrants in the finale of Russell T Davies’ futuristic family drama Years and Years, but one of the episode’s most talked-about moments was a much quieter one: the toast raised by Anne Reid: “Dear God, what a carnival. This is the world we built. Congratulations, cheers all.”

As indomitable grandmother Muriel Lyons, she launched into a bleak, scathingly powerful rant, telling her relatives how the parlous  state of the planet was all their fault – mainly, it seemed, for buying cheap T-shirts and using supermarket self-checkouts. Either way, it was one hell of a speech.

Because it’s a more naturalistic medium, monologues tend to be rarer on TV than they are on stage or film. But every now and then, scriptwriters get to flex their creative muscles with a chunk of uninterrupted speech lasting a minute or more. It may be rabble-rousing or defiant, bitter or soul-baring, but it’s often a definitive scene.  

So here are our all-time top 10 TV monologues. Tyrion from Game Of Thrones and Jed Bartlett from The West Wing had several contenders apiece that didn’t quite make the cut. Coach Taylor’s “clear eyes, full heart” team-talk from Friday Night Lights was agonisingly left on the bench. Let us know your own favourites in the comments below: 

1. 'The one who knocks' (Breaking Bad, 2011)

A spine-tingling speech that signalled Walt’s transformation into his badass alter ego Heisenberg. Late in season four, chemistry teacher-turned-drug kingpin Walter White (Bryan Cranston) gets into a row with his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn), who begs him to quit making meth and turn himself into the police before someone turns up at their door with a gun. His ego bruised, Walter launches into an almost Shakespearean diatribe, outlining exactly who’s the threat here: “I am not in danger. I am the danger.” The scene is really made by the fleeting flicker of regret and shame on Walt’s face at the end – fear of what he’s become. 

2. 'Happy Christmas, Ange' (EastEnders, 1986)

The shouty Cockney BBC soap was in its imperial phase in the mid-80s, largely thanks to the stormy marriage of Queen Vic proprietors Angie (Anita Dobson) and Dennis Watts (Leslie Grantham) - she a bubble-permed boozer, he a serial philanderer nicknamed “Dirty Den”. When he tries to leave her, desperate Angie lies that she’s terminally ill to make him stay. The storyline came to a head on Christmas Day 1986, when Den vengefully exposes the truth and served Angie with divorce papers: “This, my sweet, is a letter from my solicitor.” The episode was watched by a record-breaking 30.1m viewers.

3. 'Because I’m queer' (Queer As Folk, 2000)

Two decades before Years & Years, Russell T Davies made his name with Channel 4’s taboo-busting gay drama. A series two storyline saw Stuart (Aidan Gillen) come out to his family after his nephew Tommy tried to blackmail him. “I’m queer,” he spits, defying anyone to challenge him. “I’m gay. I’m homosexual. I’m a poof, I’m a poofter, I’m a ponce. I’m a bumboy, batty-boy, backside artist, bugger. I’m bent. I am that arse bandit. I lift those shirts. I’m a faggot-ass, fudge-packing, s__t-stabbing uphill gardener. I dine at the downstairs restaurant, I dance at the other end of the ballroom. I’m Moses and the parting of the red cheeks… And I am not a pervert. If there’s one twisted b*****d in this family, it’s this little blackmailer here. So congratulations, Thomas. I’ve just officially outed you.”

4. 'I’ve seen a few things' (Doctor Who, 2013) 

Written by Luther creator Neil Cross, this episode saw Matt Smith deliver an impassioned, thespy speech with a knowing nod to Blade Runner. The young Queen of Years, Merry (Emilia Jones, daughter of Aled), will be sacrificed to the planet-sized parasite of Akhaten at a religious festival. While Merry leads a song of hope, the Doctor realises the Mummy-like monster feeds off emotion, so defiantly offers it the sum total of his Time Lord memories: “I saw the birth of the universe. I watched as time ran out. I have lost things you’ll never understand. So come on, then. Take it all!” He never looked more like an old man trapped in a young man’s body. 

5. 'It’s called the carousel' (Mad Men, 2007)

Jon Hamm was never better as enigmatic ad man Don Draper than in his pitch to Kodak execs about their new slide projector. “It’s not a spaceship, it’s a time machine,” he explains. “It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. And it lets us travel the way a child travels, round and round and back home again, to a place where we know we were loved.” As he speaks about the meaning of memory and the pain of nostalgia, Don flashes old family photographs on the screen, emotions churning below his smoothly dapper surface. 

6. 'Just tell me what to do' (Fleabag, 2019)

The second series of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s masterpiece saw her fourth wall-breaking anti-heroine form a tentative relationship with a hot priest™ (Andrew Scott). Laying herself vulnerably bare inside a confessional booth, she seemed to be speaking for an entire generation of frustrated, over-saturated millennials: "I want someone to tell me what to believe in, who to vote for, who to love and how to tell them. I want someone to tell me how to live my life, Father, because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong… Why am I still scared? So just tell me what to do. Just f***ing tell me what to do, Father.” And he does, in one word: “Kneel!”

7. 'Risk is our business' (Star Trek, 1968)

William Shatner’s performance as Captain James T. Kirk in the classic sci-fi series is now much parodied but that’s a measure of how memorably iconic it was. This rousing monologue saw the USS Enterprise skipper extolling the virtues of taking risks and pushing boundaries - because that’s how adventures were had, knowledge was found and innovations were made. “Risk is our business,” he insists. “That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.” After all, Kirk wanted to boldly go where no one had gone before, split infinitives be damned.

8. 'We were so beautiful' (Misfits, 2009)

Yoof channel E4’s sci-fi series about ASBO superheroes was a cult concern but contained some glorious moments. This one saw hard-partying Nathan (Robert Sheehan) screaming from a rooftop to a crowd below, waving a gun around, begging them not to waste their youth: “We’re young! We’re supposed to drink too much! We’re supposed to have bad attitudes and shag each other’s brains out! It breaks my heart. You’re wearing cardigans! We’re screw-ups. And I plan to be a screw-up until my late 20s, maybe my early 30s.” It’s delivered with an exasperated teenage earnestness that somehow makes it all the funnier and more poignant. 

9. 'America is not the greatest country' (The Newsroom, 2012)

We could have chosen one of writer Aaron Sorkin’s many speeches from The West Wing, but they tend to veer into more-liberal-than-thou territory. Instead we’ve gone for the masterful opening sequence of his later political drama, in which news anchor Will McAvoy (Jef Daniels) rips up his moderate image and revives his career. Frustrated by the bickering of his fellow panellists in a debate and distracted by hallucinations of his ex, he delivers a scathing response to a college student’s question about why America is the greatest country on earth. “It’s not,” he tells the stunned crowd, launching into a blistering, stat-packed, rapid-fire rant. Sadly, in its three seasons. The Newsroom never truly better this electrifying moment. 

10. 'If you’re watching this, I’m so sorry' (Extras, 2007)

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s follow-up comedy never quite hit the peaks of The Office but it was still mighty good. The peak came in the 90-minute finale, when struggling “background artist” Andy Millman (Gervais) hit the big time as a sitcom star and entered the Celebrity Big Brother house. Increasingly despondent about the price of fame, he ranted to his housemates about the vapidity of celebrity culture, before tearfully turning to the camera and apologising to his best friend Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen) for having his head turned: “You’re my best friend. My only friend. You never did anything wrong. I’ll never treat you like that again.”