BBC’s Happy Valley returned this month after a highly acclaimed first series in 2014. Written by Sally Wainwright, the show stars Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood, a fantastically competent, if harried West Yorkshire police officer. The first six part series told the story of a bungled kidnapping, serial killer Tommy Lee Royce and Catherine’s dogged pursuit of the criminals.
What made the show stand out was definitely Lancashire’s wonderful performance and Wainwright’s taut plotting and blackly comic dialogue. There was also some pretty disturbing and shocking violence that really kept you on the edge of your seat. There was also a wonderful cast of characters including Siobhan Finneran as Catherine’s recovering addict sister Clare, Steve Pemberton as hapless criminal mastermind Kevin Weatherall, James Norton’s charismatically scary Tommy, George Costigan and more.
The series was a ratings smash, largely thanks to word of mouth – I know a lot of people I worked with were talking about it and the ‘did you see Happy Valley?’ conversations meant that something that could have been a standard cop show became a suspenseful must see.
However, that first series seemed to have a beginning, middle and end. Catherine solved the case, the bad guys were banged up and so what else was there? Would the second season go the way of the rather muddled second series of Broadchurch?
The opening scene of the second season proved we were back in safe hands. We had Catherine telling the funny story of a sheep stolen by some teenage druggies for a laugh and was typical of Happy Valley’s tone of finding the humour in an absurd situation. Lancashire once again shone, and we settled in for the new set of stories. This second season has some big name (for British TV) stars. Kevin Doyle (Downton’s Mr Molesley) is a detective involved with the always fab Amelia Bulmore as the rather flaky Vicky.
Sally Wainwright clearly likes to work with the same actors. Sarah Lancashire was equally great in a very different role in Wainwright’s ‘Last Tango in Halifax’, Bulmore has taken on writing responsibilities on Wainwright’s ITV show ‘Scott and Bailey’ after having a leading role as the titular character’s boss. Kevin Doyle was memorable as Amanda Redman’s annoying neighbour in At Home with the Braithwaites.
Also popping up this year, a couple of Harry Potter alum’s, Neville Longbottom himself, Matthew Lewis with a dodgy moustache and as a pretty dodgy character. Shirley Henderson – Potter’s Moaning Myrtle, but someone who has been great in projects like Bridget Jones’ Diary, Trainspotting and many more (including Sally Wainwright’s Shakespeare Re-Told: Taming of the Shrew) – is another suspicious character. She has a connection with Tommy Lee Royce and has a job at Catherine’s grandson’s school which is an ominous development.
I’ve been a fan of many of Sally Wainwright’s shows for years, starting with At Home with the Braithwaites back in 2000, through to Scott and Bailey, Last Tango in Halifax and now this series. She always has great roles for women and usually set in the North of England with wry and realistic dialogue. The people seem flawed and real and often have complicated family life. Relationships shift and unexpected things often happen in her shows. Happy Valley might all fall apart before the end of this series, but I doubt it. Sarah Lancashire portrays a woman trying to do her best for her family after the death of her daughter and the break up of her marriage. She has to care for her vulnerable sister and slightly off kilter grandson. She shows such dedication to her job and seems to really care about her town and the people she is trying to help. However, not all of her decisions are good ones.
Lancashire has been around on British TV for a long time – unforgettable as dim barmaid Racquel on Coronation St in the 1990s, she is simply magnificent here and is the main reason to watch. I’m sure she’ll be bloodied and bruised but triumphant again in six weeks times.