Sally Wainwright’s multi-Bafta award-winning hit Happy Valley returns to the BBC for its third and final series, starring Sarah Lancashire as Sergeant Catherine Cawood. Here, Sally talks about the roots of the show, how it has evolved, what the future holds and why Happy Valley was always planned as a trilogy
How would you describe Happy Valley?
It is not a police show, it’s a show about Catherine, who happens to be a police officer. It’s not a police procedural, it’s not a crime show. It’s really about Catherine and about what happened to her in the past and this weird crooked relationship she has with this man who affected her life so badly.
What originally inspired you to write Happy Valley?
I saw a documentary by Jez Lewis called Shed Your Tears and Walk Away and it was about drug and alcohol problems, specifically in Hebden Bridge. The other influence was that, when I was a kid, there was a series called Juliet Bravo, which I really, really liked. It was actually not filmed far from Hebden Bridge, it was filmed in Todmorden. It was about a female police inspector and it was a really good show. It’s kind of in my top ten TV shows from adolescence, so it was my attempt to re-visit that.
The other big thing that inspired me of course, which I’ve talked about a lot, was Nurse Jackie. I wanted to write my own Nurse Jackie, but obviously I couldn’t write about a nurse, so I wrote about a policewoman instead. When I wrote the first series that was very much in my head as an influence.
How would you describe Catherine Cawood’s personality traits?
Catherine is very strong and very stubborn. I think she has got a very strong streak of irony and comedy. What I often think about Catherine is that she is a good person to whom something very tragic has happened. That informs the character that she is now. That she has got this streak of tragedy that strikes through her but she is somebody who prior to that was very amusing and entertaining and good fun. She is strong, I think police officers have to be strong.
Why do you think the audience loves Catherine so much?
I think it’s Sarah Lancashire’s performance. I think that she is an extraordinarily empathetic performer. I think she conveys the real subtleties of the tiny, tiny moment-by-moment thoughts in everything she does. The audience really engage with her.
Did you always have Sarah Lancashire in mind for the character of Catherine Cawood?
For Catherine yeah, because we had done Last Tango In Halifax where she played Caroline and she really captured my imagination. I thought she played Caroline so well, and again she just gets everything. She gets every little detail and she has that fantastic charisma and personality. So again, right from the first series, I had her in my head which really helped when I was creating the character. To be able to see her and have some pretty clear idea of how she would deliver the lines.
Can you tell us how you came up with the title, Happy Valley?
So Happy Valley … I always work closely with police advisors, who are old police officers who have worked in the area, and one of them told me that is what they call the Valley because of issues with drugs. For me it reflected the show. It’s dark, but it has also got a lot of humour in it. I think less so in season one, more so in season two. We want to continue that in the new season. It’s still very much about the dark side of life, but it’s also about how within that people always find ways of being funny and warm and human.
When writing the show, how do you determine the contrast between the dark and the light?
Balancing the dark and the light is usually done through the character of Catherine because she is so nice to write for. She is a fantastic character to write for, she has got a lot to her. The show is kind of a portrait of Catherine, a portrait of what she has gone through in life and what she is now, the kind of person she is now. And obviously I know I am writing for Sarah. Nothing will be wasted, she will get everything. She’ll push everything in the right way. She will get the humour across. I think that balance is encapsulated in that character.
Why do you think audiences love Happy Valley so much?
It’s odd with Happy Valley, so many people talk about it in such a way that I do now believe it’s pretty good! I did ask someone the other day, ‘what is it that you think?’, and she said ‘the characters and the performances and the stories’. You know the truth is it’s just an alchemy, just an alchemy that some shows somehow manage to press buttons with people.
I guess it’s just one of those. You kind of hit a patch of gold, a seam of gold in it somehow. It does always seem to capture people’s imaginations when you are writing about things that are on the wrong side of the law. It’s about transgressive behaviour and I suppose humans are fascinated by transgressive behaviour. I guess that’s why people are so fascinated by crime. It’s a kind of vicarious thing, that we don’t indulge in ourselves but like to watch other people doing it, or we like to see them get caught, or we like to follow the people who sort things out.
Why have you waited so long to write series three?
I waited six years because I wanted to get to a point where Ryan would be old enough to start making choices about whether he wanted to have a relationship with his dad or not. And could he have a relationship with his dad, and how would Catherine feel about that?
I really wanted to be able to explore that. It’s been great that we got Rhys back to play Ryan which has been fantastic, and he has done a really lovely job in that. That was always the intention, to have a gap and it has worked out just about right. Just the right period of time because he is now 16, so he can travel places by himself, he can make choices. He can do things behind Catherine’s back.
The intention developed through conversations I had with Sarah to make it a three-parter, to make a trilogy. We always said this would be the final season and it is very definitely is the final season.
Happy Valley series three begins at 9pm on 1 January, New Year’s Day, on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.
Images: BBC/Lookout Point/Matt Squire/Alex Telfer/Anthony Pileggi.
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