If there’s one thing that British TV needs, it’s more crime dramas. If there’s anything online TV blogging needs, is heavily sarcastic opening lines to introduce a review of something. At some point during the six episodes of Happy Valley; the show turns from being about a kidnapping case to exploring the psychology of a woman who happens to be a very good police officer. I was quite surprised at how the main plot was resolved two-thirds in and then it’s true hand was revealed in being about the mental state about Sergeant Catherine Cawood, played to absolute perfection by Sarah Lancaster.
Catherine is a police sergeant for the Calder Valley police force in West Yorkshire who lost her daughter to suicide eight years ago, due to her giving birth to a child conceived during her rape by Tommy Lee Royce (Norton). Due to raising up the child, she ended up divorced from her husband and estranged from her son; with her only support from her sister Claire (Siobhan Finneran). Complications arise when Royce is released from jail after serving eight years on drug charges and he’s involved in a kidnapping scheme aimed to extort money from a local businessman.
The series is very much on the shoulders of Lancaster throughout the six episodes – and wow, she does a brilliant job. Ticking a few cliches on the way, but it’s quite entertaining to see her able to immediately talk down a drugged up coke-head and annoying councillor in one scene and then handle a several minute one-take dialogue where she has to keep the attention of the viewer. She manages to be intimidating and vulnerable at the same time – especially when some scenes involve her having to deal with some dark events that occur. The final shot of the series involves her smiling, and the route for her to get to that point is a rough and bumpy one. As someone who kept guardianship of her grandchild; when she starts to feel like others around her, it has an impact. She’s not perfect but she’s a strong pillar in the community.
The community around her works well, but the show is more focusing on those involved in the story around her. Finneran does well as her sister Clair, and Steve Pemberton is great as the snivelling Kevin; which is great as I’ve finally seen him in something that wasn’t The League of Gentlemen. But a lot of credit has to go to James Norton, turning in an absolutely terrifying performance as Tommy Lee Royce. A man you can only really describe as a complete and utter evil human being. The show paints him as a monster and when he discovers he has a son and it starts to feel as if it’s going to try and humanise him — he then goes and kills someone. Add the fact he then tries to ignite him and his son in flames; the show knows what it’s doing. It allows you to get behind Catherine even more and wanting her to stop him – leading to a very tense showdown.
It looks great and it’s very well done – the locality and personality of the West Yorkshire countryside is brought across, giving it a nice sheen yet feeling gritty when it needs to be. I’m quite looking forward to digging into the second series. If you haven’t watched this yet, it’s very much recommended.
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