Happy Valley, BBC1 - TV review: Homegrown, Yorkshire-set drama is better than Fargo
Sally Wainwright is on a roll. Not only has she written the best female cop show – okay, the only female cop show – since Cagney & Lacey, the slam-dunk Scott & Bailey, but with Last Tango in Halifax she has also rescued fictional Yorkshire pensioners from the long shadow of Last of the Summer Wine.
News that HBO in North America plans a remake of Last Tango in Halifax – presumably in Halifax, Nova Scotia – led to a flurry of eyebrow-raising in this country; but the suitability of Wainwright's material for the mores of US cable TV drama were last night underlined by her new BBC1 series, Happy Valley.
After all, does this storyline ring any bells? A weak, mild-mannered husband decides to stage a kidnapping in order to get him out of a financial hole, prompting pursuit by a homely female policewoman. It also happens to be the premise of the Coen brothers' movie Fargo, which has been re-made as an FX cable show and is now screening on Channel 4.
The milquetoast in Wainwright's new series is an overlooked company accountant, Kevin, played by Steve Pemberton. I nearly wrote "over-played by Steve Pemberton", because for a while I feared that the actor might be just a bit too Royston Vasey for the easy naturalism of the acting around him. Once the story got into its stride, however, it was evident that he was very well cast: a perfect cartoon of envy, cowardice and regret as his plan inevitably goes awry.
The homely policewoman is played by Last Tango's Sarah Lancashire, who introduced her character before the opening credits rolled, by way of keeping a suicidal junkie in conversation. "I'm Catherine," she told the man threatening self-immolation. "I'm divorced, I live with my sister, who's a recovering heroin addict. I've two grown-up children... one dead, one who doesn't speak to me... and a grandson." Wainwright probably saved herself at least 60 minutes of laboriously enacted exposition with this prologue.
The title is meant ironically. Nestling in the West Yorkshire Moors like a relic of the Industrial Revolution (a shot of the grandson's primary school seemed to locate "Happy Valley" in Hebden Bridge), the fictional town's sole growth business is drug-dealing.
In fact, it was to the resident narcotics kingpin that Kevin took his idea of kidnapping his boss's daughter and then sharing the ransom money – loot Kevin needed in order to send his own two daughters to the local posh school.
And then his boss offered to fund their schooling anyway, a burst of generosity sparked by the fact that his wife had terminal cancer – thus leaving Kevin's dilemma beautifully poised for next week's episode.
I really didn't expect to be writing this, but I think I actually prefer Happy Valley to Fargo. At least it's first-hand.
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 3 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut