Home Featured TV Shows All TV Shows Movie Reviews Book Reviews Articles Frequently Asked Questions About Us

Happy Valley: Episode #1.1

"That's the usual everyday story of country folk."

Many shows have a terrific opening sequence that cleverly tells the audience what it's all about. Happy Valley takes it to a whole other level, when Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) must talk down a drunken smackhead in a playground who is about to set fire to himself. And talk him down she does. Or more accurately, she gets close enough to douse him in extinguisher foam.

It's a marvelous metaphor for Catherine's life, which she spends putting out metaphorical fires at work and at home, waiting for a metaphorical negotiator who is stuck in traffic and will never, ever show up. Of course, I could also go with the obvious "she's playing with fire."

As she helpfully tells Liam, the kerosene-soaked idiot in the opener, Catherine is 47 and divorced, has two grown children, and lives with her sister, who is a recovering heroin addict. As she later tells the school administrator, Catherine's daughter Becky was a victim of rape and committed suicide shortly after giving birth, and Catherine's marriage broke up as a result. Catherine is raising her grandson Ryan alone.

And Ryan is a troubled child. He has an "unpleasant temper," throwing chairs and swearing at his teacher. (Does he sense that he was unwanted? Of course he does.) Catherine is justifiably worried that Ryan takes after his biological father, Tommy Lee Royce. More about Tommy further on in this review.

At work, it's so clear that Catherine is very good at her job, and that she cares deeply about people. She even went out of the way to connect with Kevin Weatherill, offering him a sit down and a cup of tea. When she's out of uniform, we can see the pain in her eyes, especially the incredible depth of grief for her daughter. When Ryan's teacher and the school admin ask to speak to her about Ryan's temper problems, Catherine looks like she herself is the schoolchild in trouble.

Catherine is still involved with her ex-husband Richard, a reporter whose paper is shutting down. I shouldn't make snap judgments, but I already despise him. Yes, he was the one who found Becky's body (Catherine's remark that she should have been the one because she's accustomed to dead bodies and he's not, wow, that bothered me). And yes, marriages tend to break up when a couple loses a child tragically. But Catherine is now carrying the entire load, raising their grandson alone, while he's got a new wife that he's cheating on with Catherine. Plus he takes Catherine out to dinner so that he can pump her for a story for his failing paper. What a shit. Am I being too harsh?

Okay, moving on the kidnapping.

There's this guy named Kevin Weatherill. He has the sort of life that Catherine should have but doesn't: a good-paying job, a pleasant house, a nice wife and two (living) daughters. Kevin goes to his boss, Nevison Gallagher, and asks for a good-sized raise so that his daughters can go to a better school, and Nevison reluctantly turns him down.

Steve Pemberton, in a terrific performance as Kevin Weatherill
It might have ended there... except while the Weatherill family is at the caravan park for the weekend, Kevin stumbles over criminal activity: a packet of weed falling out of a sandbag. Immediately aware that he is in serious trouble with Ashley, the owner of the caravan park, Kevin thinks quickly and comes up with a crime of his own to share with Ashley: kidnapping Nevison Gallagher's daughter for a half a million pounds. It feels like maybe Kevin had simply been fantasizing about the possibility, and the circumstances made it pop out of his mouth. Whatever the reason, it felt like a perfectly understandable progression for an ordinary guy who, in normal circumstances, would probably never commit a crime in his entire life. A couple of days of discomfort for Ann Gallagher, a half a million pounds, Kevin's girls get to go to a nice school, nobody really gets hurt.

Maybe that's the way it would have happened if Tommy Lee Royce weren't involved, because you just know after he keeps hitting Ann during the actual kidnapping that it's not going to end well. Tommy is taking pleasure in terrorizing Ann, threatening to dismember her and asking her if she's a virgin. (Shudder.) Catherine said that Tommy had been brutal with her daughter Becky, and I can totally believe that. It gives weight to Catherine's post-coital discussion with Richard about taking the law into her own hands and killing Tommy herself. Not that she would. Or would she?

When Nevison's wife and daughter get Nevison to change his mind and give Kevin the tuition money after all, Kevin is completely thrown. And it isn't even just that: Nevison's wife Helen has terminal cancer and Nevison wants to travel with her before the end. He wants to leave Kevin in charge, something Kevin has always wanted and thinks he deserves.

To give Kevin credit, his first impulse is to go to the police and tell them everything before Ann is kidnapped. And Catherine is right there, ready and willing to go the extra mile and find out whatever is bothering the guy. Kevin changes his mind and takes off, clearly not clever enough to realize that the police are sort of good at stuff like taking down plate numbers.

And there you have it. This pilot episode tells us everything we need to know about Catherine Cawood, sets up the villains and the victims of the kidnapping and the ransom, and makes it all so believable. I was instantly hooked, and immediately fond of Catherine Cawood. I especially loved how she was just driving by and saw Tommy in front of a restaurant, and she immediately went after him and was actually looking around the neighborhood where they took Ann Gallagher. Catherine is like a bloodhound. It was almost as if she could smell the kidnapping that just took place.


-- Ashley and Lewis aren't all that bright and don't seem vicious. Ashley was actually nice enough to set up wheelchair access for Kevin's wife Jenny in the game room, and Lewis let Ann see his face and even said Ashley's name right in front of Ann. Tommy is clearly the hardened criminal.

-- Nevison was unhappy with Ann for throwing away her expensive education. And she was kidnapped in order to give someone else an expensive education.

-- The kidnapping took place right under power lines. No symbolism there, huh?

-- I've never been to Yorkshire (actually, I've never been to the U.K.) but it doesn't look dissimilar to rural Pennsylvania, with the mountains and the stone buildings.

-- Becky's gravestone reads: "Rebecca Cawood (Becky) 1988-2006. Beloved daughter of Catherine and Richard and sister of Daniel. In God is my hope."

-- To add insult to injury, Liam Hughes, the moron who was going to set himself on fire, was threatening to press charges against Catherine for assault. Plus she had to pay for the fire extinguisher.


Catherine: "I'm Catherine, by the way. I'm 47, I'm divorced, I live with my sister who's a recovering heroin addict. I have two grownup children, one dead, one who don't speak to me, and a grandson, so..."
Liam: "Why? Why don't he speak to you?"
Catherine: "It's complicated. Let's talk about you."

Jason: (through the door) "Fuck off."
Shafiq: "I think that means 'Come in', Sarge, in Swahili."
Catherine: "If I'd said that, it'd be racist."

Richard: "He's lowlife. He's scum. He'll get what's coming to him one day. He just will."
Catherine: "The upside, on the other hand, the exquisite satisfaction you'd get from grinding his severed scrotum into the mud with the underside of your shittiest shoe, and then burying his worthless carcass in a shallow grave up on the moors where it can rot, undisturbed and unloved, until the end of time... I'm sure that would make me feel better. Just a bit."

Ashley: "You can call me God."
I thought that was apt, since he does have the power of life and death over Ann.

Four out of four fire extinguishers,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Yay for Happy Valley reviews! Another show I got into because Mark and Paul wouldn't shut up about it on Twitter. I've discovered more shows that way...

    Anyway, I marathoned the whole thing so I'm not entirely sure what happened in which episode. I can't believe so much happened in just the first episode wow. Catherine Cawood's introduction has to be among the best ever. She's just going to no-nonsensely lay out everything pertinent about herself and then spray a guy with foam. I love Catherine. She's strong but vulnerable and insanely competent but deeply flawed. Such a well written, well acted character.

    "To give Kevin credit..." No. Kevin gets no credit. Zero. What a horrible human being. I almost hate him more than Johnny Lee Royce (although Royce is definitely scarier). His boss doesn't want to give him a raise? GETTING THAT BOSS'S DAUGHTER KIDNAPPED IS NOT A NORMAL HUMAN RESPONSE.

  2. Point to sunbunny. Maybe I gave Kevin credit where none was deserved. :)

    Sarah Lancashire is wonderful in this part. Like Emmy-winning wonderful. Except they don't have Emmys in the U.K. What's the equivalent?

  3. The BAFTA TV Awards is our equivalent, Billie. Sarah Lancashire was nominated for season 1 of Happy Valley and probably will be again for season 2.

  4. Thanks, Mark. I'm not surprised. I love her in Last Tango in Halifax, too.

  5. That Kevin, what a putz! He has a nice life already, but since it's not good enough for him, he'll risk it all to try and grab more. Not to mention endanger the life of an innocent girl. It doesn't matter that he was afraid of Ashley, he had already "thought the plan through". Poor Catherine, she has so much to deal with. A tough job, dead daughter, troubled grandson, addict sister...she is such the heart and soul of this show. Most British productions are very well done, but very reserved and kind of frosty like Stella in The Fall. This show is lovely and ugly all at the same time. Just like real people in a real place. I was drawn into the story from the very start. I also love that valley. Beauty in the hills all around them, drugs, crime and many assorted problems in the middle of town. Amazing show. I'm going to do a re-watch along with these reviews, yay.

  6. This was the first thing I watched with James Norton (Tommy Lee Royce) after he voiced one of my favourite characters in Dragon Age Inquisition, and he is honestly terrifying in this show. Completely polarising to his characters in Grantchester and War and Peace.

    I'm so glad that you're reviewing this, Bille.

  7. Billie,
    Awesome review of this terrific entry into Catherine's complex life. I think this show is so great because we get to watch, with awe, Catherine's impossible life that she, against all reason, manages to navigate through.

  8. This show has been on my list for a while. I decided to give it a try after reading the review. Astonishing work all around.

    I'm not sure I can stand the thought of my beloved Sidney Chambers as such a brutal person. All credit to James Norton for making me afraid of him, something I didn't think was possible.

    I thought the scene at the graveyard was interesting. The director made sure we saw (and Ryan commented on) Sylvia Plath's grave. Another young woman who took her own life, leaving young children behind her. I'll be interested to see if the story continues to draw parallels between Sylvia and Becky.


We love comments! We moderate because of spam and trolls, but don't let that stop you! It’s never too late to comment on an old show, but please don’t spoil future episodes for newbies.