Right, picture this: you’ve got a new prime time BBC1 show starting up, it’s got theme music by that cheeky Jake Bugg, it stars that funny Steve Pemberton and that lovely Sarah Lancashire, it’s set in a small town, and it’s called Happy Valley. Sounds like another of those cuddly BBC dramedies right? Like that lottery one, or that one about those lovely old people finding love that Sally Wainwright wrote.
WELL IT ISN’T! No, it really isn’t. And whilst Happy Valley might be the best thing on BBC1 for a very long time it’s also the most horrible, twisted, and dark. It also just makes you feel terribly sad at times. But it is also brilliant, truly brilliant. Writer Wainwright has form, she’s the creator of ITV’s Scott and Bailey and whilst there are similarities (it stars a female police officer, it’s set in the north, it focusses on private lives too) it is a very different kettle of fish.
We’re now halfway through the series run of six episode and so far there has been kidnap, rape, the violent and graphic murder of a police officer, a heavy beating, and all against the background of divorce, money problems, and suicide. Cheery stuff. But when it’s as well written and acted as this you’re gripped for every second.
The show is grounded by Sarah Lancashire, as Sergeant Catherine Cawood, doing something that many actors can’t manage, to make her character real, and by real I mean real life real, not TV real. Here reactions to things are human, whether it’s the news that the man who raped her daughter has been released from jail, or when her grandson a product of that rape and who she now looks after since her daughter's suicide (cheery stuff right?) asks to play football with his grandad, who wants nothing to do with him. If Keeley Hawes thought she had the BAFTA sewn up for Line Of Duty then Lancashire might have changed her mind.
The flipside to Sgt Cawood is the murdering rapist Tommy Lee Royce, played with physical menace by James Norton. Royce is one of the most depraved characters to be put onto TV and provides most of the shows tough-to-stomach moments. Throw in the builder out of his depth, Ashley, and Steve Pemberton's every man Kevin Weatherill whose greed has had untold consequences for his friend of many years. Where the show is going from here and how it's going to end is anyone's guess. And that's why it's so gripping.
Catch up on BBC iPlayer if you missed the first three episodes, you really should.