Monday 26 September 2016

'Happy Valley' returns with more mayhem

John Boland

Published 14/02/2016 | 02:30

Drawn-out demise: James Norton as Andrei.
Drawn-out demise: James Norton as Andrei.

Was ever a series so misnamed as Happy Valley (BBC1)? In the award-winning first season of Sally Wainwright's crime drama, the sleepy West Yorkshire setting was the scene of kidnapping, rape, murder and suicide. And at this week's outset of the second season, policewoman Catherine was forced to bash in the head of a maliciously poisoned sheep.

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Humans looked likely to fare even worse. Middle-aged detective John (last seen as mopey manservant Molesley in Downton Abbey) tried to terminate his affair with shop assistant Vicky, only for her to drug him, take compromising sex pictures in a hotel room and threaten to send them to his wife and all his colleagues.

Then there was Tommy, who in the first season had raped Catherine's daughter, thereby causing her suicide, and was now being visited in prison by creepy female fan Frances.

And there was also the decomposed body of Tommy's mother, discovered in a lock-up by Catherine, who might have killed her in revenge. Well, that's what some of her colleagues think.

There was a lot of other stuff going on, too, not least the reappearance of kidnapped and tortured teenager Ann, who has now joined Catherine's police squad and is played by Charlie Murphy, in a role somewhat more persuasive than that of wedding-day revolutionary Lizzie in RTÉ's Rebellion.

As in the first season, Wainwright's empathy with strong women characters looks set to keep us watching, though with the vengeful Vicky and the nutty Frances she seems intent on creating a couple of female grotesques as well.

And just as in that first season, it's Sarah Lancashire's Catherine, weary and traumatised but gruffly caring, with whom any sane viewer will identify.

Meanwhile, War and Peace (BBC1) came to an end with the drawn-out demise of Andrei (James Norton, pictured, in noble rather than Happy Valley rapist mode) and with Pierre and Natasha finally finding romantic fulfilment. The series was always watchable if somewhat underwhelming.

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