Happy Valley, BBC1 - TV review: Drama speaks right to the heart of what it means to be British

Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) is one of the most likeable heroines to grace prime-time TV

Daisy Wyatt
Tuesday 15 March 2016 23:18
Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood
Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood

More gripping TV beckoned on BBC1, with the final episode of not-so-Happy Valley. Almost every character seems to have had an affair and/or has a dependency on alcohol, and yet watching the drama every week is the equivalent of snuggling under a 13.5 tog duvet with a huge mug of Horlicks.

The finale saw a murderer policeman take his own life, a mother overdose after shooting her son and a teaching assistant exposed for grooming a primary schoolchild into contacting his rapist father in prison. It is to the great credit of the script and the spectacular performances by the cast that Happy Valley never veers into soapy sensationalism.

The drama's soaring success is largely down to the brilliant characterisation of Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), one of the most likeable heroines to grace prime-time TV. Her do-gooding can almost veer on the sanctimonious, until she swears in front of her grandson and all is forgiven.

Her warmth shone through in three stand-out scenes last night. When she wasn't cradling Alison in her arms while arresting her, she tried to show compassion for Miss Wheeland, before attempting to talk down DI John Wadsworth in a tragi-comic scene that saw her apologise to the detective for her poor negotiating skills.

At its core, Happy Valley reminds us of how wonderfully flawed we all are. A strange sense of optimism prevails despite the misery. The drama speaks right to the heart of what it means to be British. The characters muddle on through despite their lot, with the knowledge that a cup of tea can cure a thousand woes. Thank you, Sally Wainwright, for this excellent second series; please write another one soon.

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