Reflections on Series 2 of Happy Valley

Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley

Series 2 of Happy Valley is over on BBC One, and has been available on Netflix and iTunes for several days. I assume those interested in the show have taken the time needed to watch all 6 episodes either in the UK or in the US.

I wanted to share some overall thoughts and things I didn’t get into the individual episode reviews about series 2.

Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley
Catherine didn’t save John and reacted with tears and regret

Series 2 was more emotionally fraught than physically fraught, especially for the main character Catherine Cawood, played by Sarah Lancashire. Catherine dealt with highly charged emotional situations when:

  • Clare (Siobhan Finneran), her alcoholic sister, fell off the wagon
  • She failed to talk John Wadsworth (Kevin Doyle) down off a bridge before he dropped to his death
  • She discovered that Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) had somehow managed to get a gift for her grandson Ryan (Rhys Connah) into their home
  • She was forced into therapy
  • She was a suspect in several murders
  • She discovered the grisly scene in which Alison (Susan Lynch) killed her own son and then tried to kill herself
  • Instead of blaming Ryan’s teaching assistant (Shirley Henderson) for manipulating Ryan, she tried to help her sort through her misguided thinking

In Sarah Lancashire’s hands, all that emotional drama was brilliantly done. Standout scenes for me were the one where Catherine madly dismantles the racing car track that was given to Ryan when she discovers that Tommy Lee Royce has somehow invaded the sanctuary of their home. Everyone was talking – Catherine, Ryan, Clare – as Catherine yelled and cried her way through a semblance of an explanation to Ryan about why he couldn’t have something from his father. Ryan thought she’d gone mental. Catherine reminded him how Tommy doused him with petrol and put her in the hospital for 4 months. Catherine ended up in a near fetal position on the floor, tears streaming, head banging, by the time the scene was over.

The other outstanding emotional scene for me was the way she responded to Alison’s confession that she shot her son. She showed so much empathy and understanding for Alison. She did her job – she always does her job – and arrested Alison, but she did it through tears and with such a sense of compassion that it radiated out of the screen and into the room.

Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley

There were several crimes and police investigations running through season 2 of Happy Valley, but it was really about Catherine Cawood from start to finish. From the mind of writer Sally Wainwright, Catherine Cawood emerged as one of the most layered and multi-faceted characters ever imagined. Brave, fearless, tough, capable of being frightening, yet kind, generous and understanding. Biting in humor and in reprimand, vulnerable and in pain in her personal life, relentless in her professional life, Catherine is a real and complete human person.

Sally Wainwright knew what she was doing when she wrote Catherine Cawood for Sarah Lancashire, because Sarah made her as real and alive as any character you’ve ever seen anywhere. Sarah Lancashire won a BAFTA for Last Tango in Halifax and was nominated for a BAFTA for series 1 of Happy Valley. In this viewers opinion, she deserves another nomination for series 2 – and a win this time. Or, to quote Elizabeth Day, “Let the sky rain down with gongs and statuettes and golden envelopes writ large with her name.”

I learned a new word from this fan, who found one word to encapsulate everything I just said.

For others as ignorant as myself, the translation of époustouflant is “staggering, mind-blowing.”

The Other Actors

Kevin Doyle in Happy Valley
Kevin Doyle played John Wasdworth

The other actors were all excellent, turning in outstanding performances to a person. From young Rhys Connah to the police, the suspects, the secondary players such as Con O’Neill and Amelia Bullmore – everyone was excellent.

Con O'Neill and Siobhan Finneran in Happy Valley
Neil and Clare

James Norton was at his manipulative best. Kevin Doyle was terrific. Siobhan Finneran was bang-up good at being an ugly drunk as well as a loving sister.

The Music

Ben Foster wrote the music for series 2, as well as series 1. I didn’t notice the music so much in series 1, but in series 2 it seemed a part of the plot. Each character had their own particular moment with the music. It grew ominous around Frances or seemed to sink into an alternate reality under the floor when John realized he was going to get caught. The final chords of the series, with Catherine on a hill feeling conflicted about Ryan, were as threatening as the cloudy skies behind her.

The Directing

Four of the episodes were directed by Sally Wainwright, two by Neasa Hardiman: 100% female. There were car crashes, falls off bridges, smooches under the covers, violent struggles, arguments, quiet talks over coffee, moments alone with a cricket bat and a sleeping bag, crime scenes, autopsies, scenes in a therapist’s office, drunken take downs on public streets, drugged and naked ex-lovers. There were numerous sets and locations. There was rain and fog and mud and Yorkshire roads through towns and hills. The directing choices for framing, focus, and background all worked beautifully for me.

I especially liked what they did with the camera and music to make it seem as if John’s head swam with fear. I liked the way the camera looked up from the ground at Catherine as she stood over her daughter’s grave. I liked the framing of the conversation on the fence at the sheep farm. I liked the quick glimpses of the struggle between John Wadsworth and Vicky Fleming.

I don’t know if Sarah Lancashire gained weight for this series, or if they padded her a bit, but I liked the choice to make her a bit dumpy and frumpy. She was seriously in need of a haircut and wore a horrid scarf around her neck whenever she wasn’t in uniform. She looked like what she was: a 49 year old cop with a demanding home life who didn’t have time to think about how she looked.

Thank goodness, more correctly thanks to Sally Wainwright, RED Production Company, and the BBC, for Happy Valley. Television of this caliber is rare and a real treasure. And thanks to Netflix and iTunes for getting it to American viewers so quickly.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on Series 2 of Happy Valley”

  1. I managed to stick with this series because I knew I was watching something very special unfold in each episode. Unfortunately, I really struggled with the difficulty in understanding the all the dialogue because the accents were so heavy, which naturally impeded my overall enjoyment of the program. I tried finding subtitles on my tv – but no luck. Your excellent review gave some valuable clarity and insight.

    1. I’ve started watching it with close captions on – otherwise I miss too much. On my remote there is a button that lets me turn on close captions. If you look around on Netflix BEFORE you play the episode, there’s usually a choice about watching with captions or English language or some such. It’s a revelation to get it all, and to actually see some of Sally Wainwright’s clever dialog written out is often a bit awesome.

  2. Happy valley can be done and overwith. Never thought it was all that happy. Would much rather see Ms Lancashire finding LIFE with Ms Sosanya on Last Tango in Halifax or even better A SHOW ALL THEIR OWN.

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