It was back in 2014 when BBC's Happy Valley received so much praise and recognition that it basically went off the Richter scale. The series became widely regarded as one of the greatest dramas BBC has ever delivered and made household names of Sarah Lancashire, James Norton and writer Sally Wainwright. Now two years on, Happy Valley is set to make a powerful return for it's second series. Whether or not it will live up to the first series is debatable, however, going on what we know so far - Happy Valley may reach new heights.
Until recently, British TV was never my thing. I watch a lot of different shows of different genres, but the one thing that all these shows have in common is that they originate from the USA. That all changed last year after constantly hearing the positive reviews about Happy Valley. Ultimately, I decided to give Happy Valley a go. One episode led to another and within two days I'd completed the entire series. Edge of seat. Compelling. Brilliantly written. Brilliantly acted. That is the only way that I can describe Happy Valley. Perhaps the most notable element about the series is how real it is. The events that take place are entirely plausible. There was never a moment where one would think that wouldn't happen or that was added for dramatic effect. Before looking forward to series two, lets examine the reaction and response from series one, highlighting the reasons why Happy Valley is not to be missed and why it could be the biggest show of the year.
The success of Happy Valley is remarkable. During the first series, each episode pulled in an average of 7 million viewers. Since then, the series has become a success worldwide (it marketed as an Netflix Original in the US, meaning all episodes became available at once). The Telegraph called Happy Valley "The most talked about drama of the year" while Radio Times referred to it as a "word-of-mouth hit". The BBC reported that the show received an average audience of 7.2 million viewers over the six episodes, and an additional 8.1 million requests for the show on BBC iPlayer. Happy Valley holds a 100% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Vicky Frost of The Guardian wrote, "To get hung up on the violence of this BBC1 kidnap drama misses the point. It is beautifully written by Sally Wainwright, draws an astonishing performance from Sarah Lancashire—and between them, they have created something truly unmissable." Gerard O'Donovan of The Telegraph has said that Happy Valley is "complex, thrilling and brilliantly written and acted" and "one of the best watches of 2014."
Whether it be the harsh realities of Happy Valley or family struggles in Last Tango in Halifax, Wainwright delivers killer scripts on every show that she works on. Moreover, Wainwright invents these larger than life characters that are fully developed. Each and every one of Wainwright's characters feel like people that we, the viewers, know. Wainwright gets a lot of praise for writing strong female characters, which is well deserved, but I have to commend her on her ability to write such compelling male characters also. Tommy Lee Royce is a prime example of this. I have seen James Norton in several other performances (War and Peace, Life in Squares and Grantchester) but he is completely unrecognisable as Tommy in Happy Valley. While this has a lot to do with Norton's BAFTA worthy performance, Wainwright gives Tommy life. The way that Tommy speaks makes us as viewers dislike him further. Moreover, the way Wainwright slowly reveals a little more in each episode, without giving away too much is excellent. Going back to the excellent female characters, Catherine Cawood is arguably the strongest written female character on television, both sides of the Atlantic. I would trust Sally Wainwright to make a compelling, Emmy worthy story out of anything. Her writing is faultless and I ultimately see her at the top of the screenwriting game.
A good drama needs even better characters to make the viewer want to come back week after week. Overlapping with what I said about Sally Wanwright, Happy Valley has incredibly written and brilliantly acted characters, who are as relatable as your next door neighbour. Catherine Cawood is so complex yet ordinary, dealing with her real people problems as well as her job. Tommy Lee Royce is the villain of the story, yet he is no "comic book" villain. He is a real person who's had an unfortunate life and an unfortunate childhood. Perhaps he is the way he is because it's all that he knows. Maybe he wasn't educated well. Each character has layers upon layers, there are no one dimensional attributes. The best thing that one can say about the characters in Happy Valley is that they are real.
The name of this woman alone makes me want to watch a series. Sarah Lancashire is one of the biggest reasons for Happy Valley's success. The acting chops of that woman are unbelievable. Lancashire makes the character come to life. The fourth episode was specifically memorable and award worthy. It's hard to draw your eyes away from Lancashire, who delivers an award winning performance in every episode. It is more than likely that this will continue in series two, as Catherine deals with the outcome of the events of the series one. Lancashire need only make an expression and the viewer automatically becomes aware of what Catherine is thinking.
I've seen Norton in several other dramas, and he has become one of my favourite actors. He often plays relatable young men, specifically seen in Grantchester. Tommy Lee Royce is a different story. Norton's portrayal of Tommy is terrifying, making him one of the most hated characters on TV in 2014. Norton is totally unrecognisable in this role, sharing absolutely no similarities with his character from Grantchester. Norton and Lancashire have great on-screen chemistry, in a villain versus hero sort of way. I think Norton will be round for many years to come.
I watch too many shows to list, but I have no problem saying that Happy Valley's return is going to be my highlight of the year. I expect the viewing figures to be high, because the second series of this BAFTA winning drama is highly anticipated. I have seen complaints about the shows return, with some arguing that the series finished and that it shouldn't have been brought back. While it is true that the first series concluded the storyline and wrapped everything up, I wholeheartedly trust Sally Wainwright. If she feels that the story needs to continue then that's good enough for me. I am beyond excited for Happy Valley's return. Trust me, it's going to be unmissable.
Happy Valley series 2 begins airing on BBC One Tuesday, 9th February 2016.
In the US, Happy Valley is a Netflix original, series 2 should be available shortly after its conclusion in the UK.
Series 1 is currently available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.