Autodidact: self-taught

Oct
21
2014

Happy Valley

by V. L. Craven

Happy Valley

At the start of the first episode of Happy Valley, no frills police sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) is called to the scene of a young man doused in petrol, threatening to set himself alight. While she’s talking to him, stalling so the negotiator from the nearest town can arrive, she says:

I’m Catherine, by the way. I’m 47. I’m divorced. I live with my sister who’s a recovering heroine addict. I’ve two grown up children. One dead. One who doesn’t speak to me. And a grandson. So…

The guy asks why he doesn’t speak to her and she says, ‘It’s complicated.’ Which is one of those English understatement sorts of things. ‘Complicated’ barely begins to cover her life, as the person responsible for her daughter’s suicide has been released from prison that day and is back in town.

Then there’s Steve Pemberton, in a rare dramatic role, as Kevin Weatherill, an utterly useless sort of individual. When his boss denies him a pay rise so that his daughter may go to a nicer school, he makes a decision that will devastate┬ámultiple lives.

James Norton (playing Tommy Lee Royce) rounds out the primary three characters. Royce, an unrepentant, violent criminal, has just been released from prison and winds up being connected to Weatherill’s plan. He is also determined to insert himself into the police sergeant’s life.

These three are the good (Cawood), the bad (Royce) and then the grey area between the two (Weatherill). As the show progresses we watch each character change (some more than others, but there’s change all round). We are reminded that no one is all good or all bad and desperate circumstances make for desperate, and sometimes violent, choices.

Lancashire’s performance is spot on, as is everyone’s, really, but Pemberton’s character was particularly surprising. His growth from nonentity into … well, no spoilers here, but the show is dark and our man owns the role. Lancashire’s Cawood behaves in ways unusual for female law enforcement on television, which was refreshing.

Happy Valley is ultimately about the far-ranging consequences of the actions of the few and the imperfect people trying to right those wrongs. It’s compelling television.

And there’s blood–people get booted in the face and slammed against brick walls and other things I don’t want to spoil for you, but the make up people don’t go easy on the viewers. But it wasn’t gore-for-gore’s sake, either.

From the writing to the directing to the acting it was outstanding television and we need more of it. Happily, it’s been renewed for a second series, though no word yet on when that will air.

One Response to “Happy Valley”

  1. Writing from September to October 2014 - V. L. Craven Says:

    […] Happy Valley is an English crime show set in Yorkshire, starring Sarah Lancashire as a police sergeant trying to keep her life and sanity together after the man responsible for her daughter’s death is released from prison. […]

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