Unhappy happy valley

Poor Catherine Cawood. She is police sergeant of a small Yorkshire village. She sleeps with her ex-husband. She looks after her sister, a recovering heroin addict. She takes care of her grandson because his mother, her daughter, has committed suicide after being raped. The man responsible has returned to the valley, and Catherine is very, very alert, up to the point of breaking a few police rules. Happy Valley might just be the misnomer of the year.

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The reason I want to admire this six-part series is the main performance by Sarah Lancashire. She plays her scenes matter-of-factly, but without being hardened or cynical. She is so good that the scenes she is not in feel slightly off. It will be hard to watch her in anything else and not think of this series. On the whole, Happy Valley might not be as even or as suspenseful as Broadchurch, but Sarah Lancashire is more memorable than most of the coppers on TV lately.

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Unlike Broadchurch, Happy Valley is not a whodunit. The audience has to wait for the police to latch on to the fact that someone has been abducted. It’s also bleaker and gorier than Broadchurch, but nowhere near The Fall. I like Gillian Anderson as much as Olivia Colman, but it’s Lancashire’s performance that stands out. There is a drunk guy who wants to set fire to himself. Sergeant Cawood arms herself with a fire extinguisher and a pair of sunglasses and goes to talk to the man. Just in case.

Episode 5 is a slight disappointment because there are too many moments of soul-searching and too many family resentments coming to light. Episode 6 is slightly too neat and, at the same time, too undecided about how it wants to end. Never mind – Catherine Cawood is as interesting as was Jane Tennison in her time.

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