Top TV of the Decade: Happy Valley

Welcome to The Indiependent’s Top TV of the Decade! TV Editor James Nash dives into the hit BBC One crime-drama, Happy Valley

Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley is not just bleak – it’s violently bleak. Both series of the hit BBC One drama never shied away from the brutality of the crimes committed, or the psychological effect on those who have to deal with it, namely, Sarah Lancashire’s Sergeant Catherine Cawood. Even more depressing is the fact that although the show is mercilessly, relentlessly dark, it also feels more real than the majority of shows on television today. If all that hasn’t put you off, let me explain why Happy Valley is must-watch TV.

Yes, the series is bleak, but it’s also surprisingly funny. What Wainwright achieves with the script is nothing short of genius, moving so rhythmically you almost forget you’re watching something scripted – it feels like real conversation, and puts most other TV (and film) to shame in this regard. But real doesn’t mean boring; Wainwright also excels in crafting some of the most shocking scenes in recent TV history, including the horrific murder of PC Kirsten McAskill (Gentlemen Jack’s Sophie Rundle) in episode three. This is not a show for the faint of heart, and definitely not one to binge.

All of this is of course elevated by some standout performances, particularly from our leading lady, Sarah Lancashire. Her BAFTA winning take on Catherine is extraordinary, at every moment embodying a working, grieving, single grandmother with equal parts rage and finesse. She is supported by an equally extraordinary ensemble, including a heart-breaking turn from Siobhan Finneran as Catherine’s recovering addict sister Clare, and a truly sinister performance from James Norton as Tommy: rapist, murderer, and father of Catherine’s grandson.

Happy Valley is raw, gripping, brutal, all-too-real television, and British drama at its finest. One can only hope that Sally Wainwright is tapping away as we speak, getting ready to bring us the long-awaited third instalment of this visceral series.

Words by James Nash

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