WARNING: The following blog contains spoilers – please don’t read if you’ve not yet watched all three series of ‘Happy Valley’ but think that one day you might.
It’s finally over. This week the BBC aired the final ever episode of Sally Wainwright’s excellent TV drama ‘Happy Valley’, a police procedural which stands head and shoulders above all others by virtue of the quality of Wainwright’s writing and the exceptional acting of, in particular, Sarah Lancashire and James Norton. It’s one of those programmes that you are genuinely sorry when it’s over, one that leaves you wishing you hadn’t yet watched it so that you could still look forward to enjoying it for the very first time.
This latest series has been a long time coming. Those who enjoyed the first two series which were first broadcast back in 2014 and 2016 have had to wait seven years for this final instalment. The reason given was that Wainwright wanted to wait for Rhys Connah, the child actor who played Ryan in the earlier series, to grow up so that he could continue to play the same role when older. This show of patience by those with a hit show on their hands is commendable given the inevitable temptation to cash in on the programme’s success. Furthermore, given that it could not be guaranteed that after so many years Connah would still be following an acting career, such a show of patience was not without risk. That patience though was amply rewarded by the commendable performance the young actor gave and demonstrates that it is indeed good to sometimes wait. It was fitting then that the BBC did not simultaneously release all six episodes of series three at the beginning of January, a decision that deprived us all of the opportunity to binge on watch it on iPlayer over a couple of days. Instead, after waiting seven years for the series to air at all, we had to wait a further week between each hour of hugely enjoying drama, something which, as well as heightening our enjoyment, served to make the programme something of a national event, something that we could enjoy all the more as a shared experience. In these days of instant everything, when all we want we expect to be delivered delivered, it’s good to sometimes have to wait.
But it’s not just the joys of delayed gratification that can be commended about the show – even it’s title is perfect. ‘Happy Valley’ is the name given by those who police the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. This is on account of the area’s drug problem. But more than that the title gives a nod to something that is present in this series that is all too often lacking in others, namely ‘nuance’. Things in Happy Valley are never straightforward and just as they are in real life, sorrows are experienced alongside moments of happiness. Furthermore, those who live in ‘Trouble Town’* have a complexity to them that doesn’t allow us to categorised them into stereotypical personifications of good and evil.
So Ryan, the child born as a result of the rape of Sergeant Catherine Cawood’s daughter, is, as a result of his mother subsequently taking her own life, brought up in the care of his grandmother who, understandably enough, is torn between affection for her grandson and hatred for all that his existence represents. Her actions clearly reflect the love she has for him yet, when in a particularly poignant scene, Ryan, now in his teens, tells her he loves her, she is unable to respond in the way we, as viewers, long for. Instead of expressing any love in return, Catherine manages only to question Ryan as to what brought on such a show of emotion. Likewise, despite her very apparent hatred for Tommy Lee Royce, the man who had violated her daughter all those years previously, and whose actions since have proven that such violence was an integral part of his psychopathic nature, in the powerful climactic scene, one senses that, as a result perhaps of her recognising that in some measure Royce is a product of his upbringing, her attitude to him softens a little and she finds himself calling him by his first name. And we who watch on, and who have been consistently appalled by all that Royce is capable of, also find ourselves accepting that the man we’ve long wished dead, isn’t all bad.
Likewise Catherine Cawood is far from being a one dimensional character. Despite her brilliance as a police officer, she is not perfect. Though we love her she is herself capable of unkindness when in one episode she is involved in a prank that results in a colleague being made to look something of a fool as a result of his perhaps over zealous belief in alien life forms. But when the individual who is a person of colour accuses her of racism, and her senior officer likens her actions to the worst forms of sexual harassment in the workplace, she is rightly indignant, recognising that, whilst all wrong doing is wrong, there are, none the less, varying degrees of wrongdoing. She recognises that lazily tarring the worst offences with the same brush as more minor infringements ultimately serves only to diminishes the seriousness of those actions that deserve our greatest condemnation.
This recognition of complexity is something that we would do well to take into our day to day lives, lives lived in a world where nuance is all too rarely appreciated. Real life issues are frequently complex and given our inability to fully comprehend all that there is to understand, we need to recognise that, rather than everything being black and white, frequently, for us at least, reality exists in a kaleidoscopic world of grey. This is not to suggest that we shouldn’t ever hold strong opinions, but simply to acknowledge that even those with whom we most vehemently disagree may none the less have a point of view that is worth hearing.
Furthermore, we need to recognise that if we knew what others had experienced in their past, their behaviour that we find so hard to accept might be, not only understandable, but also similar to how we would behave ourselves if faced with similar circumstances. Again this is not to excuse wrongdoing. One’s past does not absolve anyone of the responsibility for their actions, but we nonetheless need to accept that adverse circumstances whilst not an excuse are frequently a factor when an individual’s acts badly. We should allow ourselves to be gracious to others, even as we would wish others to be gracious to us when, for reasons we would find it all too easy to justify our actions, we too err.
All this is to say that we really do need to try to understand each other better, to communicate more effectively and listen to one other more carefully. And even though we will, on occasions, still inevitably disagree, we need to do so well. It really isn’t necessary to hate everything about an individual simply because we have differing views to them on a single issue. Left unchecked such foolishness will result in our living lives of increasing isolation and hatred as, overtime, we find that, on at least one small matter or another, we disagree with everybody we ever come into contact with and, as a result of a misplaced sense of moral outrage, our anger increases along with our loneliness.
The truth is out there, and it is of course important, but we are more likely to find it if we search for it together than if we imagine we can find it by ourselves.
It is, after all, good to talk.
* ‘Trouble Town’ is the name of the song by Jake Bugg that provides the title music to ‘Happy Valley’. It can be heard here.
To read ‘When the Jokes on You’, click here
To read ‘I’ll miss this when we’re gone’, click here
To read ‘In loving memory of truth’, click here
And to read ‘Grace in a political world’, which concerns one who is infinitely gracious, which is exactly how gracious I need him to be, click here
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