So here we go then. The award-winning Happy Valley – written by the excellent Sally Wainwright and starring Sarah Lancashire, who put in an an arguably career-defining shift in series one – is back for a second, eagerly awaited six-episode run. That first series was just a brutal battle royale between local copper Catherine Cawood (Lancashire) and her nemesis Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), and touched on themes of family and lost identity. I’ll be honest, I didn’t love it to begin with but Wainwright did a skilful job of playing out the initial kidnap story until only two people were left standing – Cawood and Royce, who had been like two prizefighters eyeing each other up and sparring up until the explosive finale. Now, with Royce behind bars, I was eager to see how Cawood and her story would continue.
NB: I’ll be talking about the action and the plot, so there will be spoilers in them thar hills.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the series in the build up to this opening episode, thanks to BBC iPlayer’s excellent primer (see that here), and it struck me that Happy Valley is a modern western, with Cawood as the small-town sheriff, bestriding her turf like a colossus, and Royce as the bad man riding into town. Happy Valley’s western credentials were boosted in the first, beautifully edited scene, which saw Catherine sitting with her sister Claire in their back garden wearing aviator shades, dressed all in black and smoking a fag while she recounted a story about a local sheep rustling gang.
“Sheep rustling? Sheep. Rustling? As in yeehaw!” asks Claire, almost incredulous.
“No, there were no cowboys involved,” replies Catherine.
See, even a wry nod to the western genre in that exchange.
From then on, we heard Catherine tell the story of this gang, narrator style, which was intercut with her finding a barely breathing sheep on an elderly woman’s lawn and her struggles to put it out of its misery. The old woman went in to make a cup of tea. It was at once sad, funny and macabre; that tell-tale mix of Wainwright’s folksy, almost soapy humour and shocking scenes of death and brutality.
We were propelled through this seemingly mundane but surreal story by Catherine herself, acting as narrator, until things got serious – while investigating a lead she came across the rotting, dead corpse of an elderly woman in a garage. I say that’s when things got serious because it was then Happy Valley reverted back into a traditional narrative structure, and it was soon established that the dead woman had been brutally assaulted and murdered. The identity of this victim? Lynn Dewhurst, Tommy Lee Royce’s mother.
Catherine Cawood and Tommy Lee Royce. Two people inextricably linked because of events revealed in the first series, and now linked further in an even more perverse fashion. As you would expect, when Tommy Lee (locked up in prison) found out his mother had been murdered and who had discovered her, he shook with rage. The scene where the prison chaplain had to break the news to Tommy Lee about his mother was terrific – the chaplain was visibly nervous and afraid of Tommy Lee, while the man himself, shorn of all hair, exposing angelic face and cheekbones so pronounced they could stop traffic, tried with every sinew not to let his tough-guy act slip. As this stunned surprise and emotion turned into bilious plans of revenge, he enlisted the help of besotted Frances Drummond (Shirley Henderson), a frequent visitor and obsessive who, it was patently obvious, would do anything that the man she loved told her. At the end of the episode as she stood outside Catherine’s house watching young Ryan and Catherine’s son Daniel play board games, her glasses misted in the pouring rain, it was obvious she would be a foe to contend with.
But there were other new characters, too. There was married John (Kevin Doyle), a police officer also working on the Lynn Dewhurst murder, who was having an affair with glamorous sales assistant Vicky (Amelia Bullmore), who, after being told that their affair was over, drugged and kidnapped her former lover, took him to a hotel room and took compromising pictures of him dressed in saucy bondage gear, threatening to send them to his wife Amanda (Julie Hesmondhalgh) and the rest of the names in his mobile directory if he didn’t cough up a monthly payment to keep her sweet.
It’s interesting that Wainwright has introduced another kidnap story into series two, albeit one that’s much shorter in duration. This one has led straight to blackmail, which is similar to kidnapping because it strips away any control the victim has. Control, power and identity; these seem to me to be the key themes that Wainwright is trying to explore here, and once again we see people – whether it’s kidnap, or blackmail or, even more terrifyingly in series one, rape – signify characters forcibly wrenched out of their realities to be confronted with a complete lack of control, their lives and identities suddenly wiped clean. It’s a horrifying prospect.
Indeed, Catherine – so steadfast in a persona that has been hewn by years of hardship – is having her own identity crisis, when DI Shackleton (Katherine Kelly) put her in the frame for the murder of Lynn Dewhurst. Suddenly, her reputation at stake, Catherine started to feel the pressure. The revelation that Dewhurst’s wounds complied with those found on other recent, victims suggested that there was a serial killer at work, which seemed to let Catherine off the hook.
Other characters? The Gallaghers were back – Ann, last series’ kidnap victim, has joined the force, while dad Nevison is still running his business and tending to his seriously ill wife – and there’s Nevison’s troubled employee Sean (Matthew Lewis) who seemed to have been set up as a suspect in the serial killer case. There was also a potential love story brewing between Claire and old school friend Neil, but this nervous and jittery divorcee felt slightly suspicious, so I’m looking forward to either being proved wrong or otherwise.
So that was the first episode, then – plenty of intrigue, as well as some trademark dialogue and themes and a serial killer case AND some Tommy-Lee-Royce-by-proxy. Quite the start.
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