There’s a brilliantly dark and harsh quality to many of the British crime dramas I’ve come to love. The somewhat softer Heartbeat and New Tricks will always be favourites, there’s something undeniably gripping about those shows which aren’t afraid to go deeper, no matter how unsettling it may be for the audience.
Happy Valley combines brilliant storytelling with a chilling set of events in a small Yorkshire town. Series one introduces Catherine (Sarah Lancashire), a tough police sergeant who is caring for her young grandson Ryan (Rhys Connah) after the suicide of her daughter Becky eight years previously. In the wake of Becky’s death, Catherine’s relationship with both her husband and son deteriorated. She’s now divorced a living with her sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran), a recovering heroine addict. When Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), the man who raped Catherine’s daughter, is released from prison she is determined to make sure he stays out of the town. But Catherine is unaware Tommy has become embroiled in another crime: kidnapping a young woman.
The entire cast of Happy Valley is brilliant, but Sarah Lancashire and James Norton take things to a whole new level. Norton is absolutely terrifying as the psychopathic Tommy Lee Royce. After watching Happy Valley I found it so hard to see him as anything else, particularly while watching him as the village vicar in Grantchester. Meanwhile Sarah Lancashire gives an unforgettable performance. Catherine is crumbling beneath her tough facade, faced with caring for the son of the man who raped her daughter and trying to suppress her own emotional distress.
Happy Valley is a masterclass in storytelling. I could not even begin to predict which twists the plot would take and I was glued to each episode. In fact, I managed to devour seasons one and two in just three days when I finally got them on DVD. Watching it on a weekly basis was torture. Although I found the crimes in season one to be the more confronting, season two remained just as unpredictable and compelling. There is nothing more exciting than watching each seemingly unconnected event be woven together, something writer and creator Sally Wainwright does superbly.
I’m hopeful Happy Valley will return for a third season. Although crime proves a captivating part of the plot, it pales against the strong and emotional stories of an amazing cast of characters. This gritty British drama is unforgettable.