Last Friday the first season of Happy Valley debuted on Netflix. It was first shown on BBC in 2014, so many Multiverse readers may already be familiar with it but not having a TV sometimes I’m a wee bit behind!
Happy Valley is set in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire (the title is taken from the local ironic description of the drug-ridden area). Sarah Lancashire plays Catherine Cawood, a respected police sergeant with a tragic past. Cawood’s daughter Becky committed suicide eight years ago, her marriage broke down as a result, and she now lives with her sister Clare (Siobhan Finnegan), a recovering heroin addict and alcoholic. Clare helps Catherine to bring up Becky’s son, Ryan, who lives with them.
The citizens of Happy Valley contend with unemployment, drug addiction and poverty and the opening scene of the first episode shows Cawood talking down a young man who is drunk and high and threatening to set himself on fire. This immediately sets the tone which is often graphically violent, emotionally brutal and unsettling.
When Catherine hears that the man who raped her daughter, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), is out of prison she cannot help keeping tabs on him. He becomes involved in a local kidnapping and the series tracks Catherine’s suspicions and Royce’s escalating viciousness towards his victim.
Cawood is stubborn, taciturn and stoic, sensitive and caring, consummately professional with an empathetic core. It’s refreshing to see a female character given the same depth as a male character. She’s not just a bitch or a victim, a temptress or an ingenue, or a significant other; she’s a fully realised authentic character, flawed and complex. Plaudits are due to Sally Wainwright’s script and Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood. Happy Valley is categorised as crime-drama but Lancashire’s interpretation turns it into a compelling character study.
The series consists of six one-hour episodes which I binge-watched last weekend. The second series was broadcast this spring on BBC so I hope it won’t take too long for Netflix to get the rights to stream it. Highly recommended.