Outstanding mainstream drama in Bleak Valley

This is my review of Happy Valley [DVD] [2014].

Catherine Cawood, a tough but honest and decent sergeant striving to do her job in a rundown Yorkshire valley community, is consumed with anxiety over the release from jail of Tommy Lee Royce, the disturbed and violent young thug indirectly responsible for the death of her teenage daughter, by whom he fathered the grandson Catherine feels morally obliged to bring up, even at the cost of her own marriage. "What else could she do?" When Tommy becomes involved once again in serious local crime, her obsession with getting him back behind bars and out of her small grandson's life goes beyond the call of duty.

With its tongue-in-cheek title, since this must surely be one of the saddest former industrial valleys in Britain apart from the lovely scenery, the police thriller succeeds on all counts. It is compulsive viewing, filled with tense edge-of-the-seat moments, yet unlike many similar dramas is highly plausible, with no nagging holes in the plot twists. The quality of the acting is superb across the board, with a sharp script, many touches of humour to ease the frequent grimness of the theme and little need for subtitles.

It succeeds on several levels, not only as admittedly often bleak and bloody entertainment, but also in developing in depth all the characters as believable people, with their strengths and failings, and their complex relationships. The author even manages to evoke a little sympathy for most of the villains, including Royce, with some appreciation of the dysfunctional families and injustices which have moulded them. As the wealthy industrialist whose daughter is kidnapped observes at one point with unintentional irony, "all actions have consequences".

Mid-way, I began to question if some of the violence was gratuitous, but have to admit that the various murders are all "necessary for the plot" plus the skilful direction means that in fact much of the horror is in one's imagination. By the end, I was convinced that this is mainstream television drama that will be hard to better, and wish there was more produced of this standard.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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