I watched the first series of “Happy Valley” on DVD not too long ago. For some reason I missed out when it was first shown in 2014. I think I buck the current trend for the box-set guzzling which is changing the face of how we watch TV, in that I often like to have the week-long gap between episodes and I felt that this was very much the case with “Happy Valley”. Watching the whole series over a couple of days I could appreciate how good it was but it was all a little too intense and grim to be called enjoyable.
For Series 2 I’m reverting to traditional viewing methods – every week at 9pm on Tuesdays. So far there have been two episodes and on the basis of these this second series is outstanding. It was one of the many TV shows that I originally thought should stick at just the one series – I didn’t want these characters to be put through any more misery. I still haven’t got over “Broadchurch” series 2 which managed to diffuse some of the power and television magic of the first series and I’m already getting anxious about a “Dr Foster” Series 2, but maybe “Happy Valley” has restored my faith a little.
Let’s begin with the writing. Sally Wainwright began her career working on scripts for “The Archers” and “Coronation Street” (I’ll come back to that later). I never really fancied her “Last Tango In Halifax” although now I know I’ve missed out. For me she really came up trumps with “Scott and Bailey” – the ITV police drama which features four of the best parts written for women in recent years, the two title roles (Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones), their boss DCI Gill Murray (Amelia Bullmore) and in the third series Rachel Bailey’s mum played by Tracie Bennett. Three out of four of those actresses established themselves in “Coronation Street” (I’ll come back to that again later).
Wainwright’s writing is spot on. It is dialogue that can turn on a knife edge. The series opener began with Police Sergeant Catherine Cawood and her sister Clare in conversation about Catherine’s day at work. What starts off as a humourous story about urban sheep rustling turns decidedly grisly, then veers back into black comedy and then becomes deadly serious with an unexpected development all in the space of the first five minutes. In Episode 2 a jokey bantery scene between Catherine and her team switches instantly once a foolhardy PCSO oversteps the mark. These changes of mood and tempo are something which Wainwright always does so well. This has the effect of having you hang on to every word and holding your breath when watching. (I do this with “Scott and Bailey” as well as “Happy Valley”).
Now the casting. It seems at last it is being recognised that “Coronation Street” alumni are amongst the best actors on television. The casting team of “Happy Valley” know this as four of the main parts have been given to strong ex-Corrie character actresses- Sarah Lancashire, Katherine Kelly, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Amelia Bullmore (again). All are turning in exemplary performances showing there is life after the cobbles and I’ve now forgiven all of them for leaving “Coronation Street” well before their time was up.
From the Street To The Valley
Famous faces from other shows are also excelling – Siobhan Finneran (Benidorm/Downtown Abbey) is reprising her role as Cawood’s sister. Back in 2000 Lancashire and Finneran worked closely together on a superb episode of the series “Clocking Off” (Yvonne’s Story – Series 1) which showed the strength of the chemistry between these two and I’m delighted to see them back together. (This will be my last reference back to “Coronation Street” but this episode featured in the role of Lancashire’s children Jack P Shepherd and Tina O’Brien in their pre-Street casting as the Platt brother and sister they’re still both playing today). The outrageously versatile James Norton, fresh from his turn as heroic love interest Prince Andrei Bolkonsky in “War & Peace” is back to scare the living daylights out viewers as Tommy Lee Royce. Of the new faces Finneran is joined by Downtown Abbey cast-mate Kevin Doyle (who’d have thought we’d have seen Mr Molesley’s bum on TV?) who’s playing a blinder and from episode 2 an excellent performance from veteran actress Angela Pleasance as neighbour Winnie. Shirley Henderson is absolutely spell-binding as Royce obsessed Frances Drummond. In the series opener there is an extraordinarily disturbing prison visit where by just sitting too close to Royce she is speaking volumes about the character.
Two episodes in and I’m confident that Sally Wainwright will be able to entertain, thrill and horrify me in equal measures. I have absolutely no idea where the series is going and don’t want to know, no plot-spoilers from me here. I would expect this to be recognised by Bafta as was the first series and it could end up being one of the TV highlights of the year.
Happy Valley is broadcast on BBC1 on Tuesdays at 9pm. Episodes should be available on the BBC I-Player catch up service.