Only a writer of Sally Wainwright’s audacious talent would dare reintroduce her unsettling masterpiece 19 months after it was last on our screens by sharing a humorous yet horrific yarn about bludgeoning a sheep to death while a witness makes a everyone a cuppa.
It works perfectly, of course; instantly re-establishing the distinctive blend of bucolic familiarity and sudden, sickening violence that made the first series of Happy Valley one of the most unwatchable yet unmissable shows of 2014, scoring a slew of awards along the way.
It’s 18 months after acerbic Sergeant Catherine Cawood sent her daughter’s alleged rapist, Tommy Lee Royce (a powerfully unhinged James Norton), back behind bars, but her troubles are far from over. As sure as night follows day, that story of sheep rustling, “North Halifax-style”, quickly leads to the discovery of an abused and mutilated body with links to Catherine’s old nemesis, putting her immediately in the frame for the woman’s murder.
The first episode is bursting with tantalizing plot threads, bringing a flood of familiar faces to the twisted West Yorkshire town. Downton Abbey’s Kevin day has essentially replaced Steve Pemberton in the role of ordinary bloke trapped in a bind of his own making, playing cheating detective John Wadsworth, who’s struggling to ditch his vengeful ex-lover (played with seething relish by Scott & Bailey’s Amelia Bullmore). Former Corrie stars Julie Hesmondhalgh and Katherine Kelly also arrive as John’s worried wife and stern colleague respectively, while Shirely Henderson and Matthew Lewis (both of Harry Potter fame) are suitably creepy in their brief appearances here.
But it’s Sarah Lancashire and her captivating, complex performance as Catherine that continues to standout. As an imposing yet compassionate copper with a reckless tendency to act on impulse, Lancashire’s Catherine is the rarest of things: a strong, complicated hero who just so happens to be a female. Here’s hoping she doesn’t remain a rarity for much longer.
Click here to watch Happy Valley on BBC iPlayer