Happy Valley: The Best drama on TV

by | Feb 17, 2016 | All, Reviews

I’ve moaned consistently about how some dramas don’t really require a second series. Some stories are told over 5,6 or 8 episodes and tie up all the loose ends nicely. Believe it or not there are times even I can be proved wrong. Case in point is the absolutely stunning second series of Sally Wainwright’s Calder Valley masterpiece Happy Valley. 

The first series, which was shown in 2014 wasn’t just the best drama of that year, but one of the best UK dramas for years. It ended with huge ratings, got everyone talking and yet when the second series was announced my little heart sank. It was sheer perfection and I’ve learnt that TV lightning almost never strikes twice. Wrong again! We’re only two episodes into the six-part second series and it’s already as compelling as the first. 

At Home With Braithwaites ran for four series on ITV

Sally Wainwright is no stranger to do more than one series of her hits. Her first ITV hit was the fantastic At Home With the Braithwaites which ran for four series. She created and wrote three series of her other superb police drama Scott & Bailey before leaving the show to focus on Happy Valley and the upcoming fourth series of Last Tango in Halifax which itself is a masterpiece.

Last Tango in Halifax was based on Sally’s mum’s experiences.

So what is it exactly that’s got me so in awe of Happy Valley? It’s just so well done. Sarah Lancashire inhabits her tortured no nonsense character so well, it’s cliched but I could watch her read the phonebook. Then there’s her relationship with her onscreen sister, the equally brilliant 

Siobhan Finneran. Each time the two are together on screen I have the biggest smile on their face. It’s not the first time the pair have worked together, they were also thick as thieves in the first series of BBC1’s Clocking Off from Paul Abbott. The series was also produced by the same production company, Red Production Company which now produces Happy Valley.  It was clear from the scenes they shared in Clocking Off that the pair shared a good chemistry. I think something else that’s working in favour of this second series of Happy Valley is the fact that Sally Wainwright (who also directs) knows each member of her cast so well, she can write to their strengths. She has worked with Sarah Lancashire for three years on Last Tango in Halifax,  Siobhan Finneran has in a number of Sally’s other dramas like Sparkhouse, The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard and 2009’s Unforgiven. She has long ties with the new cast members too. Kevin Doyle who has the joined the cast as John Wadsworth also played a pivotal in Sally’s At Home with Braithwaites from 2000 till the series ended in 2003. Amelia Bullmore who is blackmailing John over their affair also worked with Sally on Scott & Bailey. The fact the cast have these ties with the writer must account for some of it’s success.

Amelia Bullmore in Scott & Bailey from 2011-2014

Then there’s the story, or should I say stories that are seemingly interwoven throughout. each one as compelling and engrossing as the one before. There’s an awful lot going on but Wainwright’s skill is such that you never feel confused or lost at any point. There’s the death of Tommy Lee Royce’s mother Lynne which Catherine is suspected of. Kevin Doyle plays John, a policemen on the investigation looking into the murder who is being blackmailed by a woman who he’s been affair with. Vicky (played by the always brilliant Amelia Bullmore) is going to desperate measures to assure John leaves his wife. She drugged him and took comprising photos that she plans to send out to everyone in his phone’s address book if he doesn’t comply or pay her the £1000 pounds a month she’s requesting. Then there’s the wonderfully creepy Shirley Henderson as dowdy   Frances Drummod who is visiting Tommy Lee Royce in prison and who has just taken a job at his son’s school in a bid to closer to him. Still following? Then there’s Ann Gallagher (Charlie Murphy) who has used her terrifying experiences in the first series to launch herself into a new career as a ‘plastic policemen’ on Catherine’s unit. The Gallagher’s have a lot to contend with since we said goodbye to them eighteen months ago, Nev’s wife and Ann’s mother has died from cancer and Nev’s fired brooding and mysterious employee Sean Balmforth (Matthew Lewis) who Catherine suspects of the violent murders. If that weren’t enough Claire (Siobhan Finneran) who is a recovering alcoholic and spent the first series loyally by her sister’s side, has fallen off the wagon rebelling. Wow that’s a lot! 

The joy of Happy Valley though is that each of the stories sit together with one another and you know they’ll come together in ways we’re not clever enough to imagine at this point. Happy Valley features everything a British drama does best: It’s full of believable, true to life characters, it’s gritty but is full of humour – it’s damn near perfect!  Full of intrigue, and one great performance after another from a cast that doesn’t put a foot wrong. We’ve been experiencing what some have referred to as ‘Golden Age’ of drama of late, with most of the plaudits going to series like Breaking Bad and the Netflix originals like Orange is the New Black. Don’t get me wrong I think Breaking Bad was one of the best TV dramas I’ve ever ever seen but Happy Valley is right up there with it for me. It’s doing it a complete disservice to just describe this as a great British drama, it is that but it’s also a great drama. It’s one we should be proud of, and shout about. If you’re not watching you’re missing out on everything! I have one small complaint about this new series: there’s only four episodes left!!!

Happy Valley Continues Tuesday 9.00pm on BBC One.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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