Reflection on “Happy Valley”, series 1

Picture of a middle-aged white woman wearing a black police uniform and hat and police-issue high-visibility waistcoat, getting out of a police car on a street with shops along one side.
Catherine Cawood

Last week, while looking for something to watch while doing a large stack of ironing during the lockdown, I stumbled upon the first series of the six-part BBC crime drama, Happy Valley. This drama, set in West Yorkshire, is about the kidnapping of a wealthy businessman’s daughter involving a rapist recently released from prison for drug offences; the central character is a policewoman whose daughter had been raped by this individual and had taken her own life after bearing the rapist’s child. I previously reviewed the second series of this, which sadly was not a patch on this series and contained a number of very unlikely scenarios, as I mentioned in my review back in 2016. The original series from 2015 was a brilliant bit of drama and it’s well worth a watch if you like good British drama. Rape is central to the plot, although there is no rape actually shown. The series is available on Netflix in the UK until 1st June.

The central character is Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire; pronounced Caywood), a police sergeant in her 40s who lives with her sister and the grandson who, because of the circumstances of his birth and his mother’s death, is shunned by everyone else in the family. The grandson has a lot of problems at school and Catherine is always getting called into school to be told about a new misdeed or other of her grandson. She has become aware of the rapist’s, Tommy Lee Royce’s, release from prison and during the series he makes repeated attempts to track down and then contact her grandson. We get the impression that she has made the decision to care for him as much out of duty and because he is all she has left of her daughter than because she loves him; his behaviour both at school and at home is exasperating for her although at one point in the series it becomes clear that part of it is triggered by being reminded that he does not have family that others have. As Royce’s presence impinges on their lives more and more, Catherine struggles to protect him from being either harmed or influenced by him, and this struggle dominates the last couple of episodes after the kidnapping is brought to an end.

The other central character is Kevin Wetherill (Steve Pemberton), who works for an industrial refrigeration company owned by a friend of his late father’s. Kevin has a disabled wife and two children he has ambitions for: the elder has passed an entrance exam for a nearby private school but not attained a scholarship. He asks his boss, Nevison Gallagher, for a rise to accommodate these fees; Gallagher rebuffs him, saying that if he did that for him, he would have to do that for everyone. This triggers a grudge he has for Gallagher; he believes that “half that company should be [his]” and that Gallagher cheated his father out of a share in the business. It turns out that, while they were building up the company, his father took time out to study accountancy rather than continuing to work on building up the company, and when he finished, Gallagher merely offered him a job rather than continuing to treat him as a partner. Therefore, while on holiday, he approaches Ashley, the owner of the caravan site he knows is involved in drug dealing and other illegal activities and suggests kidnapping Gallagher’s daughter Ann to blackmail him for the money he believes Gallagher ‘owes’ him. However, Ashley offers him what he considers a risible sum of money because he could do the whole thing without him.

Gallagher has in the meanwhile discussed the matter with his family who persuade him he should fund Weatherill’s daughters’ school fees. He also decides to take a period of absence from the company and makes Weatherill his deputy for an extended period. At this point, Weatherill obviously regrets his approach to Ashley and frantically tries to back him out of the scheme, but Ashley has engaged Royce and a second ‘worker’, Lewis Whippey (Adam Long), to carry out the kidnapping. Weatherill approaches the police, but cannot explain the situation without giving away his role. The kidnapping goes ahead; Royce manipulates the situation so that he can be alone with Ann and at some point rapes her; as they are aware that the police may be following them, they move her twice, at one point killing a female police officer who had pulled them over and become suspicious. Ultimately Catherine finds Ann, though Royce comes back and assaults Catherine so badly it is Ann who pulls her out of the building.

Still of two white men, one in his 50s and the other in his 30s, wearing dark coloured jackets, looking into a bag which is on a kitchen table. A glass bowl containing bananas and other fruit is in front of them.
Kevin and Ashley examine the money

There is clearly a moral to the story of Kevin Weatherill. He is obviously a frustrated man who has harboured a grudge for many years — perhaps his father had fostered this in him — and his reaction to Gallagher’s initial refusal was to look for ways to harm someone close to him. Once Gallagher had had a change of heart, he frantically looked for ways to undo the damage but could neither change the criminals’ minds nor tell the police without incriminating himself. He holds this grudge right to the end, blaming Gallagher’s treatment of him and his father for Ann being raped when Gallagher visits him in prison. One disappointing aspect of Kevin’s story is that it is revealed that he has been sexually assaulted in prison; a police officer remarked, “another inmate took a shine to him” before making a vulgar remark about the subject. In contrast to how carefully rape is dealt with elsewhere in the series (as in, implied rather than shown), this suggestion that prison rape is a comeuppance for Kevin’s actions is a sad use of an old trope. (Though it might explain why remorse was the furthest thing from his mind when Gallagher visited him.)

Happy Valley is set in the Calder Valley, an area west of Halifax in West Yorkshire; while the areas look gritty and urban despite being set among hills, it was actually entirely set in small towns and villages right on the edge of the West Yorkshire urban area. This brings to the public’s consciousness a part of the UK that perhaps not many people are aware of, an area with a lot of deprivation stemming from industrial decay but with a lot of natural beauty. It’s not a very diverse portrait of West Yorkshire, though; there is one non-white face in the whole series that I can remember and that was someone in the first episode, shouting about conspiracies as he is dragged away by the police. Perhaps that’s true of this part of the county, though. If there’s one criticism, it’s that they dragged out the story of Tommy Lee Royce’s pursual of his son after the kidnapping ends for two episodes when it really could have been squeezed into one; once Ann Gallagher is rescued in the fourth of six episodes, the plot switches to the ongoing Cawood family soap opera which is not as gripping as the kidnap story. It’s a great drama up until that point in episode 4, but it spends too much time tying up loose ends; some of this (the fate of Ashley, for example) could have been done in a few short sequences.

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