Happy Valley made me proud of West Yorkshire - it got the compassion of the people
Catherine Cawood may have battled violent crime and drug kingpins, but Sally Wainwright's writing really got to the heart of its West Yorkshire setting, writes Adam Gearing
Happy Valley reached its dramatic finale on Sunday night, as Sally Wainwright’s award-winning series came to an end after series three. Approximately 7.5 million viewers tuned in live to see the final showdown between Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) and Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), making it the biggest TV event of the year so far.
Wainwright’s dramas consistently break ground, offering an alternative to the almost identikit format of male heroes in gritty inner-city settings. Making a middle-aged, close-to-retirement woman in Catherine Cawood the main lead and the complex hero was refreshing and honest. It made it relatable.
The same could be said for its semi-rural Yorkshire setting, which lent it a uniquely warm yet authentic quality. There is so much talent in the area and so much beauty in its landscape that hopefully this paves the way for more production in West Yorkshire in the future.
It might seem strange to feel an immense sense of pride in a series that ultimately detailed loss, violence and struggles with grief and addiction. But the strength of Wainwright’s writing was such that even by the end, you did almost feel sorry for Tommy Lee Royce, despite his near 18 episodes worth of heinous crimes. Most of all though, as a Huddersfield native I felt a strange sense of pride for how true it was to West Yorkshire.
Instead of lazy stereotypes about cups of tea and ‘being tight’, portrayed by actors from distant corners of the UK putting 't' in front of every word, all of the characters felt like versions of someone you know. Sarah Lancashire and Siobhan Finnerhan in particular played parts so convincing and true to people in West Yorkshire that you could see similarities in your friends or your family and the way they behaved.
Even the London-born, privately educated James Norton put in a convincing performance as the criminal Tommy Lee Royce, and had us briefly convinced that he could be saved. For those of us in Yorkshire, his scarpering from the law made it feel like the drama was taking place in the streets and villages where we grew up, and a brief peek out the window would see Catherine Cawood flying by in her police-issue Corsa on her way to solve another crime before her superiors can even sit down to discuss it.
There was some disappointment amongst fans that the storyline of obnoxious PE teacher Rob Hepworth and unlikely murderer Faisal Bhatti weren’t concluded on screen. But Happy Valley wasn’t about justice or what's deemed fair. It was about qualities that are evident in the communities: compassion, spirit and empathy. Yes, Royce did get his comeuppance (sort of), but it was never really about that.
When Catherine confronted him in her own kitchen, she put out a ‘Code Zero’ to her colleagues. Those in the know feared she was in trouble, given how long it would take to get from the centre of Halifax to Hebden Bridge (25 minutes according to a Google Maps search, but that’s on a good day).
Then off Catherine went. After a quick hug with her sister, a trip to the Highlands on her tod beckons for our Yorkshire hero. Understated and dignified, just how we like it.