The QT

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Boxing Clever – Happy Valley

Every week, Michael Telfer – aka Mike TV – recommends a box set to crack open. This week’s choice is so good it’s more of a prescription than a recommendation.
All three series of Happy Valley are available on the BBC iPlayer

On May 12 the 70th BAFTA Television Awards Ceremony will take place, and Happy Valley could cement its position as one of the greatest shows ever produced in Britain by becoming the first to win the coveted Best Drama award for the third time.

If it does win, it will be a richly deserved success for the entire team behind this fabulous show, which is unlike any other I can remember watching.

When the first series aired in 2014 it was an instant hit for the BBC, backed by fantastic reviews and even better word of mouth. It is a show that has everything; heart, humour, drama and possibly the most powerful performance by a British lead actor.

Sarah Lancashire as the unforgettable Sgt Catherine Cawood

Sarah Lancashire may still have been best known for playing Coronation Street’s Raquel before Happy Valley – but her portrayal of world-weary Sgt Catherine Cawood changed that overnight.

Cawood was written specifically for Lancashire by the excellent Sally Wainwright, after being hugely impressed with her on Last Tango in Halifax. Strong yet vulnerable, and stubborn as granite, she is a tour de force that treats criminals and constabulary middle management with equally short shrift.

In the first series a tragic family history and a kidnap plot steer Catherine into a head on collision with Tommy Lee Royce, a recently released convict with a talent for mayhem and misery.

James Norton is perfectly cast as Royce in a screen-grabbing breakthrough role, and provides a fitting nemesis for the dogged matriarch and police officer. Their bitter feud sustains for all three seasons of Happy Valley and provides a powerful overall narrative ark for the show.

The entire cast are excellent, with special mention going to Siobhan Finneran as Catherine’s long suffering sister Clare Cartwright, and Rhys Connah who plays Ryan, the grandson Cawood raises after the earlier suicide of her daughter.

James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce

Indeed, the almost intolerable delay between season two (2016) and season three (2023) was because Wainwright insisted that Connah was to play Ryan in the story’s finale, on the cusp of adulthood and faced with a terrible decision to make.

It was well worth the wait, but those of us that watched Happy Valley as it was made will probably always envy those that have picked it up more recently and can rattle through the 18 perfect episodes on the iPlayer without any delay or interruption.

If you haven’t seen Happy Valley yet then don’t wait until May 12 to see if the Academy rubber stamp its status as the best British drama ever, just take my word for it and dive right in.

What next?

If you enjoyed Happy Valley you should try out the following box sets:

Cracker (ITV X)

One of the other shows currently tied with Happy Valley on two BAFTA Best Drama titles, Cracker is a Manchester based crime drama created and principally written by Jimmy McGovern. It follows criminal psychologist Dr Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, played fantastically by Robbie Coltrane, who works with the Greater Manchester Police.

His criminal profiles help crack open a number of unspeakably terrible cases over the three series and two specials, but his professional brilliance is tempered by his car crash of a personal life. As Fitz puts it himself “I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much.”

Last Tango In Halifax (BBC iPlayer)

Sally Wainwright and Sarah Lancashire first teamed up on Last Tango in Halifax, a comedy drama about a romance between two widowers in their 70s, and their respective families.

The show is a change of pace from Happy Valley in many respects, but Wainwright’s writing is excellent and it’s nice to be able to enjoy the Yorkshire setting without the violence, bloodshed and blue lights. The show has received rich praise as well for being one of the few on television to depict life after retirement positively.

Broadchurch (ITV X)

At about the same time Sarah Lancashire was storming around Yorkshire, David Tennant and Olivia Coleman were trying to solve the murder of an eleven year old boy in Broadchurch, a fictional small town on the Dorset coast.

Their investigation touches almost everyone in the town at some point, with the mystery unravelling only at the very end of the first series in a gripping finale that had the whole country guessing back in 2013.

Two follow up series saw the detectives and the town come to terms with the aftermath of the crime, while also unpicking new mysteries.

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