As good as Anna Friel is in Marcella, Sarah Lancashire is her equal as another British police officer in Happy Valley. Set in northern England (West Yorkshire), Happy Valley is anything but a happy show. I’ve watched two six-episode seasons on Netflix, both of which are bleak and raw.
Lancashire plays Catherine Cawood, a police sergeant still recovering from her daughter’s suicide eight years before. With the help of her sister, Clare (Siobhan Finneran), a recovering alcoholic, Cawood is bringing up her daughter’s son, Ryan (Rhys Connah), who was the product of a rape by Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton). When Cawood learns that Royce has been released from prison (where he served eight years on drug charges), she becomes obsessed with finding him, never dreaming how dark that search would become.
In Season Two, which is built on the first season and therefore won’t be described in any detail here, Cawood finds herself under suspicion for murder. While trying to clear herself, she works on a human trafficking case and, of course, we soon run into the ubiquitous serial killer (sigh sigh sigh).
I loved the originality of the first season as well as the rawness of the characters and the unpredictable plot-lines. Combined with the marvellous performances from all concerned and the sharp writing by the show’s creator, Susan Wainwright, not to mention the excellent cinematography, and I was hooked. Only the darkness of the graphic violence and a slight lack of polish kept me from giving that first season four stars.
The plot of the second season, unfortunately, went into all kinds of places that didn’t work as well for me, and was less original. But the acting and dialogue remained very strong and Lancashire was so good, and her character so complex and well-developed that I stayed with it, and I’m giving Happy Valley a solid ***+. My mug is up for another British serial worth watching, but be warned that this unhappy show is, like Marcella, a very dark thriller.