‘People are fascinated by crime in the Valley’ says Sally Wainwright
HAPPY Valley, says its creator Sally Wainwright, “is not a police show.”
“It’s a series about Catherine, who happens to be a police officer,” she adds. “It’s not a police case, it’s not a crime series. It’s really about Catherine, what happened to her in the past and this weird, crooked relationship she has with this man who has impacted her life so much.”
The multi-BAFTA-winning hit drama, starring Sarah Lancashire as Sergeant Catherine Cawood, returns for one final series on New Year’s Day. Like many of Sally Wainwright’s television productions, including Gentleman Jack, Last Tango in Halifax and the Bronte drama To Walk Invisible, it was filmed in part in the Bradford borough, with scenes shot in Thornton in April.
When Catherine discovers the remains of a gangland murder victim in a depleted reservoir, it sets off a chain of events that will lead her back to Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton). Her grandson Ryan (Rhys Connah) is now 16 and has his own ideas about the kind of relationship he wants with the man Catherine doesn’t want to acknowledge as his father, leaving her sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran) caught in the middle remain. Meanwhile, in another part of the valley, a local pharmacist gets involved beyond measure when a neighbor is arrested.
Sally Wainwright, who grew up in Sowerby Bridge, is the writer, creator and executive producer of Happy Valley. What originally inspired you to write it? “I saw a documentary by Jez Lewis called Shed Your Tears and Walk Away which dealt with drug and alcohol issues, specifically in Hebden Bridge. The other influence was that when I was a kid there was a show called Juliet Bravo that I really, really liked. It was shot in Todmorden. It was about a female police inspector and it’s kind of been in my top 10 TV shows since I was a kid, so it was my try and revisit that.
“The other big thing that inspired me was (US comedy-drama) Nurse Jackie. I wanted to write my own Nurse Jackie but of course I couldn’t write about a nurse so I wrote about a cop instead. When I wrote the first series, that was a very strong influence in my head.”
Sally describes Catherine as “very strong and very stubborn”.
“I think she has a strong penchant for irony and comedy. What I often think of Catherine is that she’s a good person who had something very tragic happen to her. This informs the character that they are now. That she has this tragic streak that cuts through her, but is someone who was previously very amusing and entertaining and a lot of fun. She is strong, I think cops have to be strong.”
Why did viewers choose Catherine so much? “I think it’s Sarah Lancashire’s performance. I think she’s an extraordinarily sensitive performer. She conveys the true intricacies of tiny moment-by-moment thoughts
everything she does. The audience really engages with her.”
Did you always have Sarah in mind for the character? “Yes, because we did Last Tango In Halifax where she played Caroline and she really captured my imagination. She just understands everything, every little detail, and she has this fantastic charisma and personality. So I had her in my head right from the first series, which helped a lot when I was creating the character. To be able to see her and have a pretty clear idea of how she would deliver the lines.
It was working closely with police advisors that earned Sally the title. “They are old cops who worked in the area, one of them told me they call it ‘Happy Valley’ because of drug problems. For me it reflected the show. It’s dark, but also has a lot of humor. I think less in season one, more in season two. We want to continue that in the new season. It’s still very much about the dark side of life, but also how people find ways to be funny, caring and human in it.”
How do you create the contrast between dark and light when writing the series? “Balancing dark and light is usually achieved through Catherine because she’s a fantastic character to write for. The show is a kind of portrait of Catherine, what she’s been through in life and the kind of person she is now. And obviously I’m writing for Sarah. Nothing is wasted, she will get everything. She will do everything right. She’ll get the humor across.”
Happy Valley was one of the biggest hits on TV in recent years. Why do we love it so much? “You know, the truth is, it’s just an alchemy that some shows somehow manage to push buttons in people. You kind of struck a gold stitch. It seems to capture people’s imaginations when you write about the wrong side of the law. It’s about transgressive behavior and I suppose people are fascinated by transgressive behavior. I guess that’s why people are so fascinated with crime. It’s kind of a vicarious thing.”
Why the long wait to write the third series? “I’ve waited six years because I wanted to get to a point where Ryan is old enough to make decisions about his father. He can do things behind Catherine’s back. I really wanted to explore that. It’s great that we brought Rhys back to play Ryan, he did a great job.
“It evolved through conversations I had with Sarah to make it a trilogy. We always said this would be the last season – and it definitely is the last season.”