So, you’ve finished The Wire, Breaking Bad and The Killing and you’re still hungry for more boxsets. Fear not, Standard Issue writers are on the case with some hidden gems you might not yet have seen. This week, Cal Wilson on why Happy Valley will make you the right sort of sad.
Sarah Lancashire. Magnificent.
I’ve become a bit of zealot about Happy Valley. I want everyone to watch it.
It’s the latest brilliant offering from writer Sally Wainwright, award-winning creator of Last Tango in Halifax, Unforgiven and At Home With The Braithwaites. A police drama set in a depressed Yorkshire town struggling with a huge drug problem, I probably don’t need to point out it is no way a comedy. In fact, friends gave us the DVD, with the warning that we would love it, but never laugh again.
Sarah Lancashire plays Catherine Cawood, a police sergeant in her 40s, raising her grandson after her daughter’s death. Her life is thrown into turmoil, when the man she believes is responsible for raping her daughter and driving her to suicide, gets out of prison. While she struggles to cope with her personal life, the daughter of a prominent businessman is kidnapped and she must find the woman before the increasingly desperate kidnappers get out of control.
I must shamefacedly confess the last time I saw Sarah Lancashire was in the ‘90s, when she was playing barmaid Raquel in Coronation Street. I clearly need to see more of her, so Last Tango in Halifax, in which she also stars, is next on my list of things to binge-watch.
As the linchpin of Happy Valley, she is magnificent. Magnificent. I fell in love with her Catherine the moment she walked onscreen, swinging a fire extinguisher. In fact, the only downside of her incredible performance was how annoyed my husband got with me muttering: “Oh she’s so good. Oh man, I love her” every time she was in a scene. She’s just so believable: fierce and flawed and human.
Siobhan Finneran gives another stand-out performance as Catherine’s sister Clare, a recovering heroin addict who lives with her and helps raise her grandson. Both have such warmth and depth and I loved seeing strong women in their 40s, onscreen, looking like strong women in their 40s.
Steve Pemberton, part of The League of Gentlemen, is also great as the hapless accountant who instigates the kidnapping, but is immediately, completely, out of his depth.
There is violence, but most of it takes place off-screen and I found the implication of it far more powerful than seeing it graphically played out. In tone, it’s a bit like Broadchurch, but with even more tension, and less David Tennant.
We accidentally watched the whole series over two nights and were pleasantly shattered. I know “pleasantly shattered” sounds weird, but that’s how we felt – it was emotionally draining, but so great. “Just one more” became our mantra (coincidentally also my attitude to chocolate biscuits) because it was just so compelling. It’s one of those series that really you draws you in and you find yourself worrying about the characters while you’re not watching it.
In short, it’s not a series to binge-watch on a romantic night in, unless you fancy sobbing into your partner’s jumper, but if you’re up for some gruelling, brilliant storytelling, this is the one.
Cal Wilson is a Kiwi who calls Australia home. Comedian, Writer, amateur Cat Lady.