Happy Valley final series impresses with ‘powerhouse’ performances and writing

The opening of Happy Valley’s final series was praised for recapturing the magic of the “revolutionary” programme as it garnered five-star reviews across the board.

The new six-episode BBC One drama, created and written by Sally Wainwright, returned on New Year’s Day following Sarah Lancashire’s character Sergeant Catherine Cawood on the trail of murderer and sex offender Tommy Lee Royce, played by James Norton.

In print, the Daily Mail commended 37-year-old Norton’s performance as “superbly menacing” and the “embodiment of evil” as he starred as the notorious villain.

James Norton comments
James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce in the hit BBC show Happy Valley (Matt Squire/BBC/PA)

It added: “Writer and director Sally Wainwright’s beautifully taut script, without a word wasted, constantly underlines Sergeant Cawood’s most important quality – her experience.

“To her colleagues, especially the senior officers, she’s a middle-aged woman who has been around forever. But that’s exactly what makes her so effective – and so irreplaceable.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph printed edition also raved about the series in its five-star review.

“Sgt Cawood is still one of television’s finest creations, played so brilliantly by Sarah Lancashire that we should just hand her the Bafta now and have done with it,” it said.

“Sally Wainwright remains the best writer in Britain, with such a sure grasp of character, place and plot that this series simply can’t be faulted.”

BFI and Radio Times Television Festival
Creator and writer Sally Wainwright Isabel Infantes/PA)

A host of familiar faces joined the final series, including Game of Thrones star Mark Stanley and former Coronation Street actress Mollie Winnard, who play a married couple.

The pair lead a subplot about domestic violence as Stanley plays controlling PE teacher Rob Hepworth, who padlocks the fridge and beats his wife Joanna, who is addicted to diazepam.

The Daily Telegraph added that that Wainwright takes her time with the plot introducing different characters on screen but viewers can “luxuriate” knowing that every plot strand will come together “if the two past series are anything to go by”.

Happy Valley also received a five-star review from the i newspaper, which said it had been a “long seven-year wait” but the opening of series three had retained “everything that made it so brilliant”.

It said: “Lancashire and Norton delivered powerhouse performances (and the extended ensemble also excelled), and Wainwright’s rich naturalistic dialogue didn’t miss a beat.

“Happy Valley understands how far-reaching the ripples of both trauma and crime can be, and is unflinching about exploring both: the entwined strands already suggest it will build to another nail-biting climax.”

It concluded: “Magnificent stuff from a writer and actors operating at their peak.”

Happy Valley
Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley (Ben Blackall/BBC/PA)

The Times newspaper said it was a “treat” to have the show return to TV screens, not just because of Lancashire but also Norton, who plays a “mesmerising psychopath”.

It said: “Of the many roles he has played I’d nominate this as his best, although we haven’t seen enough of him yet for my liking. It’s the gentle voice that does it. A monster with an Alan Bennett lilt.”

It concluded: “It’s a mark of a drama’s class that so many years can pass and yet when it picks up it is seamless, as if it has never been away. This is the best misery TV money can buy.”

However, the Independent online said the number of years that the show was not on TV had created some “narrative pressures”, before awarding the series four out of five stars.

It said: “Expository comments creep into discussions, especially where long-dead characters are concerned, and there is a small tendency towards remarks that feel needlessly like footnotes to the story.

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“But these are thin critiques of a show that is both funny and brutal, flamboyant yet authentic.”

The first episode of the series saw Lancashire’s character discover the remains of a gangland murder victim in a drained reservoir, sparking a chain of events leading back to her former nemesis and the father of her grandson Ryan, played by Rhys Connah.

Another five-star review came from the Guardian newspaper, which said: “Nobody does female-specific experience like Wainwright or evokes the thousands of different shades and forms of violence that hang about it better than she does.

“By the end of the first episode, all the narrative pieces are in play – from the drug plots, to the Hepworths’ private misery, via a shattering revelation for Catherine that would undo a lesser woman.

“The warp and weft of lives, of life, are as expertly woven as ever and you couldn’t wish for a better group of actors to bring it to you.”