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Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Television Review: Happy Valley

I wanted to write this as soon as I'd seen the finale but time didn't permit. In hindsight, I'm glad I let my thoughts percolate for a little while - I've realised that the series as a whole was better than I thought a week ago. For those unfamiliar with the show, here's the gist. Happy Valley stars Sarah Lancashire as Sgt Catherine Cawood, a woman juggling her job with her dysfunctional home life. Her ex-heroin addict sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran) lives with her, as does grandson Ryan (Rhys Connah). He was the product of rape and his mother killed herself soon after his birth. Catherine's decision to look after Ryan led to the breakdown of her marriage and her relationship with her son. The other story in this is Kevin Weatherill's (Steve Pemberton). Having asked his boss, Nevison Gallagher (George Costigan) for a raise and been rejected, he makes the mistake of suggesting to a drug dealer than they should kidnap Gallagher's daughter and demand a ransom. This all starts to go pear-shaped rather quickly, especially when one of the men involved in the abduction turns out to be Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), the man who raped Catherine's daughter...

It's difficult to articulate how superb a series this was. Any programme that makes you simultaneously long for the next episode and dread it in equal measure has to be doing something right. Sally Wainwright created a little simmering cauldron through a perfect script, brilliant casting and plain old twists and turns. It proved to be compelling viewing, especially from episode three onwards. The satirical title may have masked the viciousness of what was to come but you weren't in the dark for long.

Sarah Lancashire, rather predictably, was absolutely amazing. I saw plenty of comments surprised at that fact but, really, although the role is drastically different to her portrayal of Caroline in Last Tango in Halifax, that's the place to look for proof of her ability. Equally, the rest of the cast was excellent, even those who only appeared in a few episodes (see Karl Davies's performance in the final episode as Catherine's son for evidence there). For me, though, one of the best performances came from Siobhan Finneran as Clare. Steadfast with an air of fragility, I was getting really concerned about her towards the end of the series, having so much thrown at her.

Happy Valley was said to be too violent and it's certainly not easy viewing. Two episodes in particular will have you closing your eyes. However, it's something to be said that it doesn't trivialise violence. It shows it in all its horrible detail, finally dispelling the myth that people who are beaten badly get straight back up and bounce back. If anything is damaging to society, it's the view that violence doesn't leave physical or emotional scars. I think Happy Valley altered that with some haunting scenes that left me sleepless for nights afterwards.

Best series of the year? Definitely. Good luck to everyone trying to top this.

1 comment:

The Goldfish said...

This was an excellent series. We only looked it up on iPlayer on Saturday because I read somewhere that Sally Wainwright had written it. It only had 3 downloadable days left, but as it was, we finished watching it by Sunday morning.

To me, it was a perfect Western. All the violence was placed in context - every victim of any violence was given voice and character as opposed to becoming the pretty young corpses familiar to the vast majority of TV crime drama.

It was also a drama that was flawless on the representation of women - at one point you have three women over 45 in the same tense and pivotal scene, which is such a rare thing to see.

Anyway, glad you liked it too. :-)