Sarah Lancashire makes an arrest in Happy Valley.
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“THE POWER OF HAPPY VALLEY LIES IN SALLY WAINWRIGHT’S MEMORABLE CHARACTERS”
It’s easy to think the two series that have cemented writer Sally Wainwright’s reputation couldn’t be more different. Where Last Tango In Halifax is largely joyful twinkliness, Happy Valley is gritty and tough, its tone set by Jake Bugg’s gnarly ‘Trouble Town’ theme – to the extent indeed that it’s difficult to imagine anywhere less happy than Sergeant Catherine Cawood’s Yorkshire patch.
But look closer and the differences aren’t as great as they might first appear. This isn’t just down to similar settings and the presence of Sarah Lancashire, it’s because both shows are, in key respects, about extended families.
In Last Tango, that’s largely a positive. For all that the marriage of Alan and Celia causes problems for their nearest and dearest, it also extends already supportive family networks – networks robust enough to support a killer in troubled Gillian. In Happy Valley, however, there’s a blood relation it’s impossible to accommodate: sociopath Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), the rapist (spoiler alert for Series 1) Catherine blames for her daughter’s death.
This dysfunction at the heart of the family runs through the second season of Happy Valley. It doesn’t just reveal itself in Royce’s attempts, through his from-behind- bars manipulation of damaged Frances Drummond (Shirley Henderson), to get back at Cawood and make contact with his biological son, her granddaughter. There’s also the way a misguided affair rips apart the life of copper John Wadsworth (Kevin Doyle), and a key plotline about the lengths to which a mother will go to protect her son.
As these stories intertwine, each gives the other a greater resonance, which in itself is testimony to the brilliance of Wainwright’s writing. But the power of Happy Valley also lies just as squarely in Wainwright’s memorable characters – and not just the police procedural leads. When Catherine’s sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran) falls off the wagon, for instance, you root for her. Maybe that’s because Wainwright’s best-loved characters have weaved themselves so deeply into the national consciousness that they’ve started to feel like, well, family.
The Persil act of 2016 had claimed its first offenders.