Happy Valley: The Cream of British Drama

by | Mar 9, 2016 | All, Opinions, Reviews

I can often be found in the TV DVD section of my local HMV. I’m not sure why, I’ve either got most of them or I’ve got interest them but it’s a sickness this TV loving business.  It’s an interesting place to hear what people like on TV. The last time I was in there there was a young group of girls raving about The Big Bang Theory and a lad with his friends assuring them they’d love Game of Thrones. We have an annoying habit in this country of not championing our homegrown television. When I lived in the US I was so frustrated by this and I’m even more frustrated by it now I’m back in blighty.

Not get me wrong I adored Breaking Bad, I was gripped and utterly immersed in its world. Rectify is another one that I’ve fallen in love with, as well as The Americans and The Knick but I don’t love these shows because they’re cool and American, I love them because of their storytelling and their characters. They are shows with a great depth about them.

I’m aware how melodramatic this sounds but, when I’m grabbed by a drama it’s like I’m immersed in the world. Great drama gets under your skin, the people aren’t characters they’re people you know and care for. This is exactly how I felt about Happy Valley in 2014 and how I feel now we’re a week away from its conclusion. It might just be my favourite television drama of the last ten years.

Writer, creator and director Sally Wainwright has long been a favourite of mine, but this second series of Happy Valley might be her finest work.

The best drama writers don’t write characters, they write people, people who speak like people do and act like people do. Happy Valley isn’t a TV drama, it’s a gem!

The penultimate episode of the second series combined everything I adore about a great British drama; It was gritty and dark but filled to the brim with humour. 

Sarah Lancashire is so wonderful that I’ve simply run out of adjectives to describe how I feel about her commanding performance.  It’s such a layered piece full of characters I care about, and its down to Sally Wainwright’s skill as a writer that everyone gets their chance to shine.

There’s Catherine who is still living in the shadow of the man who destroyed her daughter’s life. We see Tommy Lee-Royce slightly less in this series but he’s no less sinister and he has a new protégé in the wonderfully creepy Frances. I posted on twitter that there wasn’t a character a didn’t care about and had so many replies saying you can’t possibly like Frances! But I do, I’m fascinated by what drives her and why she idolizes this man who has raped a young girl, fathered a child and subsequently tried to abduct that child and set him on fire! 

Then we’ve got Catherine’s grandson and Tommy’s son Ryan. He’s ten and starting to ask more and more questions about his mum and more worryingly his dad. In a decision bordering on genius, Sally Wainwright has made wacky Frances Ryan’s classroom assistant and she’s feeding him information on his father under the guise of teaching him to read.  Let’s take a second and talk about Ryan. Television comedy and drama is full of annoying kids. Often they’re sulky or loud, or so childish you’d be happy to give them an iPad and shut them away upstairs. The reason the BBC’s Outnumbered was such a revelation is because the children felt like real children. Ryan is the same, when he sits in deep thought pondering something about his father you can see the confusion on his face, you empathise so deeply with a young boy who is trying to make sense of his past when his dad is such a taboo subject in his house.

Then there’s John, he’s the police officer who murdered the woman he’d been having an affair with after she started to blackmail him. He feels immense guilt for his actions but luckily he’s working on the big case surrounding prostitutes being murdered so he’s cleverly managed to lump the lifeless body of his former lover Vicky Flemming in with the rest of the female bodies that are slowly piling up. His life at home is no better as his wife is having her own affair and he’s been chucked out of the family home. John’s smugly happy when the team arrest a local loner for the murders, but his life takes another turn for the worse when another body turns up that rocks the investigation.

Then, (there’s a lot going on) there’s a mother and son who keep themselves to themselves on their farm. Son Daryl is often picked and taunted by others and is depicted as a loner. THE FOLLOWING IS A MASSIVE SPOILER FROM THE FINAL MOMENTS OF LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE

When Daryl confesses he is the man behind the deaths of the prostitutes his mum’s world falls apart. She’s devastated. She wants to protect as any mother would. The final eerie scenes sees the mother and son make plans to travel America before the police catch up with him. As he ponders which states he’d like to visit we see his mother fetch her shotgun and very carefully aim at her son. As the gunshot rings out we fade to black! Talk about gripping!! I was captivated by every second of last night’s episode.

So next time we meet in HMV I’d like to see you with a copy of the Happy Valley DVD in your hands raving about it to your friends. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years of us being in an ‘Golden Age of Television’ and I believe we still are, but we need to start appreciate and praising the wonderful drama we produce here! Please! I beg of you!

Happy Valley Concludes Tuesday at 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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