You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Happy Valley’

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


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)

Production: Produced by Red Production Co.

Crew: 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.

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

More Digital

  • Terry Back chairman ACF

    Veteran U.K. Media Investor Terry Back Joins ACF as Chairman

    CANNES — Veteran U.K. film industry investor Terry Back has joined ACF investment bank as chairman. ACF, headed by CEO Thomas Dey, has been at the forefront of the M&A activity around independent TV and film production outfits, mostly in the unscripted TV arena. ACF is in the midst of expanding its activities in the [...]

  • Jay Frank

    Jay Frank, UMG Senior VP and Digital Music Veteran, Dies at 47

    Universal Music executive and digital music veteran Jay Frank died Sunday after a battle with cancer. He was 47. UMG chief Lucian Grainge remembered him in a message sent to the company. “Dear Colleagues,” it reads. “I’m deeply saddened to tell you that our colleague and friend Jay Frank has passed after a recurrence of [...]

  • Sam-Colby-The-Graveyard

    YouTube’s Sam and Colby Unveil ‘The Graveyard’ Paranormal Series Set in London

    Sam and Colby, YouTube’s favorite DIY paranormal investigators, headed to the U.K. for their next big ghost-hunting project. The duo today released the trailer for “The Graveyard,” a four-part docu-series shot in The Langham – by legend, London’s most haunted hotel – and an abandoned church graveyard. The project is their first international expedition. The [...]

  • Santos Dumont

    Mipcom: International TV Output Picture Changing for U.S. Majors

    The global import-export strategies of the U.S. majors are in flux as the world’s major content companies gather this week in Cannes for the annual Mipcom market and conference. Disney, WarnerMedia and the other handful of media conglomerates that control the vast majority of the U.S. market are in the midst of a radical transition [...]

  • Babylon Berlin

    ITV-Backed Streamer Cirkus to Launch European Drama Service Kritic (EXCLUSIVE)

    SVOD outfit Cirkus is expanding with Kritic, a new service programmed with premium non-English-language drama. The first launch will be in Sweden in December and feature big-ticket shows such as “Babylon Berlin” from Germany and “Gomorrah” from Italy. Cirkus has established itself in the Nordics and German-speaking territories. Kritic will roll out in Sweden before [...]

  • Mama K's Tesm 4

    Time Travel, Child Hosts, Diversity Build in Kids Shows, Says Glance Study

    CANNES —  More or less the only thing that hasn’t changed in Avril Blondelot’s MipJunior presentation of Kids Audience Successes Around the Globe was Blondelot herself. As well as, which she began by reporting, that “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Miraculous Ladybug” – in that order – still dominate the rankings for the [...]

  • Activision Blizzard

    Activision Blizzard Stock Recovers From Hong Kong Fallout

    Activision Blizzard saw its stock recover Friday despite continued backlash over its decision to punish a “Hearthstone” player for publicly siding with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. The company’s share price was up more than 2% Friday, closing at $54.82. Activision had been in the spotlight ever since Ng Wai Chung, a player of its “Hearthstone” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content