Happy Valley

happy_valleyI went into this series knowing absolutely nothing about it. The opening few scenes seem to be a light drama, with a strong thread of brutal humour running through it. We’re introduced to Sergeant Catherine Cawood as she tries to persuade a stoned lad to not set himself on fire. Actually she’s not that fussed about whether he sets himself on fire or not, she’s armed with a fire extinguisher and a completely bored attitude towards his antics. She’s completely unflappable, dealing with more than enough of her own problems to care much about this idiot than his interference with her quiet day.

While that tone and character are still present for the rest of the 6 episode series, I don’t think anyone could really describe it as ‘light’ drama. In fact it’s a pretty grim drama all things considered, rapidly degenerating into a story about how things can get completely out of control when grief and anger are allowed to drive decisions.

I’m not entirely certain whether I think the pacing of the series was a little bit odd, or whether it was completely inspired. It didn’t follow a standard pattern building up to a single resolution, it kept you off balance, never quite sure what the next episode would bring, with some stories wrapping up faster than expected and others taking longer. The couple of cliffhangers were almost unbearable so I’m glad that I stored up a couple of episodes at a time.

What I liked most I think is that everything is done in a very British setting. This isn’t one of the television versions of cities you usually see on television, Los Angeles ruled by gangs, London over-run with drugs or Copenhagen riddled with serial killers. This is a very real British town where the murder of a single police officer is genuinely the most horrific thing that’s happened in years. Everything has consequences, every moment of violence and every sharp word has an impact on the characters that carry through and change them. Because of that the brutality is emphasised and harder to see, the actual violence is less than you’d see in most other television shows, it’s just that because people bleed and cry appropriately it seems worse.

Delivering most of that emotion is the absolutely phenomenal Sarah Lancashire. Just as she did in Last Tango in Halifax she seems to effortlessly make her character more human, more believable and more real than anyone else. I’d say it’s an incredible piece of acting, but it never feels like a performance. Catherine has strength, courage and confidence, while also being completely uncertain, fragile and scared. It’s a fantastic piece of work, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this series is written by Last Tango in Halifax creator Sally Wainwright and I expect and hope both women will feature prominently at the awards shows next year.

I’m not sure whether I’d hope for a second season or not. The first was very close to perfect and I’m not sure a second could match that without sacrificing the realism that came from having this be a completely unusual scale of event to happen in a town. Whether this or something else though, I can’t wait to see what Sarah Lancashire and Sally Wainwright do next.

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  1. August 29th, 2014
  2. September 21st, 2014
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