TV Review: ‘Happy Valley’


One of the boons of streaming services, hungry as these venues are for programming, has been to expand platforms for imports. So Netflix brings viewers “Happy Valley,” a terrifically off-kilter British thriller that reunites the “Last Tango in Halifax” team of writer Sally Wainwright and actress Sarah Lancashire. Set in a small rural town where drugs and drunkenness are common, the six-part production unfolds a botched kidnapping plot, thus bearing a closer kinship to the movie “Fargo” than, in some respects, the FX miniseries did. Tightly constructed, the hardy few that enter “Happy Valley” should find themselves quickly (and happily) hooked.

Lancashire plays a decidedly different heroine – a local police sergeant in her late 40s, raising the son of the daughter she tragically lost, with help from her sister (“Downton Abbey’s” Siobhan Finneran, unrecognizable here). Nor is she thrilled to learn that the man she blames for her daughter’s death, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), has just been released from prison.

Still, the main plot is set in a motion by a stammering, cash-strapped accountant (Steve Pemberton, simply superb), whose scheme to orchestrate the kidnapping of his boss’s grown daughter in order to put his own kid through school spirals terribly out of control. Naturally, this will not only involve Lancashire’s Catherine as a cop but, thanks to Tommy’s role in the plot, connect back into her personal torment as well.

Beyond getting caught up in the kidnapping, “Happy Valley” teems with clever details, like Catherine’s ongoing relationship with her now-married ex-husband (Derek Riddell), a reporter at the local newspaper about to lose his job because (sigh) the whole thing is shifting online.

It’s hard to do the show justice, honestly, based strictly on a description. But the characters are so sharply drawn and the situation so suspenseful that Netflix’s famous binge function will likely be put to good use here.

Already a success for BBC One, “Happy Valley” nearly runs out of gas before its final installment, but by then the plot has established enough wrinkles to carry across the finish line. And while many of the cast members will likely be unfamiliar on this side of the pond, the performances are first-rate from top to bottom, starting with Lancashire, who manages to convey toughness and vulnerability without drifting into cliché.

Netflix is understandably proud of the noise it’s made with original programming, but shrewd acquisitions are clearly a way to augment that rather limited slate. And with various players now crowding into the search for the European dramas that PBS overlooks – including BBC America, DirecTV, Sundance, Hulu and others – a discriminating crowd in the U.S. can be treated to more than just the requisite costume or detective fare.

That’s not to say the Brits are immune to rolling out clunkers. But the chance to take additional detours also paves the way to an off-the-beaten-track gem like “Happy Valley.”



TV Review: 'Happy Valley'

(Series; Netflix, Wed. Aug. 20)


Produced by Red Production Co.


Executive producers, Sally Wainwright, Nicola Shindler, Matthew Read; producer, Karen Lewis; director, Euros Lyn; writer, Wainwright; camera, Ivan Strasburg; production designer, Susie Cullen; editor, Jamie Pearson; music, Ben Foster; casting, Beverley Keogh, Wendy Patterson. 60 MIN.


Sarah Lancashire, James Norton, Steve Pemberton, Siobhan Finneran, George Costigan, Joe Armstrong, Derek Riddell

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  1. lourdes alberto says:

    excellent review!!!

  2. Elaine Kincs says:

    How can I get “Happy Valley” in the mail as opposed to streaming? I am unable to use streaming at the present time.

  3. Cindy M says:

    I was watching, and then my husband joined in, when the first episode ended he was is there another one. We binge watched it, and loved it.

  4. I discovered the brilliance of British crime just recently. I started with Midsomer Murders, then discovered Sherlock and thought I’d die when it ended. But, then, Luther. Yeah. Great. I did not think I’d find another and then, last weekend, this – Happy Valley. It’s so Fargo. So good!

  5. Chuck Ungar says:

    Found the ending by the numbers predictable but still a gripping and fun ride.

  6. Carrie says:

    Fantastic show! Sarah Lancashire is phenomenal in the lead role but the rest of the actors were superb as well. Writing is beyond – can’t wait to see more of this show next year.

  7. LHoffy says:

    Hoping another season is coming soon!

  8. SP Wells says:

    I binged watched yesterday, and at one point, I had to walk away. I felt like writing to the BBC and telling them they scared the daylights out of me. Excellent program. Edgy is an understatement. I think Sarah Lancaster ranks right up there with Dame Judi Dench. She’s completely convincing. And it is so true about Siobhan Finneran. She is completely unrecognizable from her role in “Downton Abbey.” Both is appearance and characterization. I look forward to another season.

  9. nina b says:

    Watched as a “NETFLIX” suggestion. Didn’t stop until I’d exhausted all the episodes. The writing is excellent. I was looking for something to fill the void left by the end of the LUTHER series. NOw I’ve found it!

  10. D Brown says:

    Fantastic show! The acting is amongst the best I’ve seen!

  11. Gary Littlejohn says:

    Brian Lowry’s reviews sre simply sublime, his mastery of the television landscape unmatched

  12. A. Derby says:

    You don’t do “Happy Valley” justice. It’s, by far, the best “cop show” I’ve ever seen, extremely moving, wonderfully written and cast, and an absolute tour-de-force for Sarah Lancashire, who easily ranks with any actress you can name, including Streep and Blanchett. Was hoping this would go to PBS so more Americans would see her work.

    • Ann Gray says:

      Lancashire stars n Last Tango in Halifax on PBS!

      • A. Derby says:

        I know! In a BAFTA-winning performance as Caroline. That’s what caught my attention about her so that I was able to watch Happy Valley. Since, I’ve gone caught up on her earlier work as well. So dismayed that she was burning up the screens in the UK while we in the US were ignorant of her work. She’s truly as good as any other British actress including Mirren and Blanchett, IMO.

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