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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Not so HAPPY VALLEY

I don't really watch TV these days, and yet strangely I am watching more quality television shows than I ever have.

 To make sense of that let me explain -  I never watch TV as it's broadcast, and tend to catch up on shows via DVD or streaming services like Netflix.

 Because of this I'm always behind but this has the advantage of me being able to binge on entire seasons and be far more selective with my viewing. For instance last year I watched every season of Breaking Bad, back to back over a three week period - and I doubt if the show would have had the same effect had I watched it on a weekly basis and then waited several months between seasons. When you watch entire story arcs over a short period you can better appreciate the way a story has been structured, the flaws though also become evident. Quite often I'll start a show and give up after a season or two, especially if the show runs out of steam but that's getting rare these days especially as I tend to gravitate towards shows that have gathered critical acclaim.

James Norton - best screen psycho in many a year
There are times though when I will pick on a show out of curiosity and discover an absolute gem. One such case was the six part, 2014 BBC crime thriller, Happy Valley. It was only that I saw the entire series on DVD in Tesco for a measly £7 that I took the plunge. I would never have picked up this show otherwise - after all it stars one time Coronation Street actress, Sarah Lancashire (an actress I associate with gentle TV drama designed for housewives) and simply didn't seem like the sort of show I'd enjoy.

 Still it was a crime drama, the disc was cheap and so I placed it in the player - I fully expected a twee crime drama, a cross between Juliet Bravo and Midsummer Murders  but what I got was a gritty and grim thriller, a kind of British Fargo but with the humour replaced with genuine nail biting tension.


Written by Sally Wainwright who also directed the pulse pounding fourth episode, Happy Valley centres on a group of people who find themselves involved in events they are unable to control. The initial trigger is accountant, Kevin Weatherhill who annoyed with his boss over his refusal of a pay rise mentions the idea of a kidnap to local drug dealer, Ashley Cowgill. Wetherhill dreampt up the idea on a whim after discovering Cowgill dealt drugs and from there things spiral out of control. First Cowgill enlists two of his workers, Lewis Whippey and Tommy Lee Royce. The latter character is played by James Norton and he gives us a performance of true depth and in doing so creates one of the most memorable screen psychos of all time.

It's all gritty stuff - opening with a theme song from the excellent Jake Bugg it soon becomes clear that this is a thriller with teeth, and boy does it bite.

It's an extemely violent show, unusually so for the BBC but the violence is justified and the effects of all this is explored in depth with the complex, well realised characters. I watched all six episodes over a two nights and although episodes five and six seemed like an epilogue that could have been tightened up into one episode the show kept my attention throughout. Still I suppose it is the kidnapping that drives the plot and once that was concluded at the climax of episode four, the pace slowed down considerably; almost feeling that the final two episodes were made to stretch the show out to six episodes to fit better into television scheduales.


That said this is a brilliant series that anyone who likes crime thrillers needs to catch up on. Sarah Lancashire's performance is absolutely extraordinary and the rest of the cast are uniformly excellent.


1 comment:

Oscar said...

Fargo was a fine, funny movie. If this is anything like it, it's a keeper.