Police drama Happy Valley came to an end tonight with a final episode that saw Sarah Lancashire’s Sgt Catherine Cawood face down kidnapper Tommy Lee Royce. But has Catherine’s story really come to a conclusion? Here, writer Sally Wainwright reflects on the word-of-mouth success of her hit series and whether we’ll see her lead character again…
So, have you got ideas for a second series? Yes, obviously it’s something that I hope we’ll be able to do again. There isn’t officially a series two. But it’s certainly got the potential. I’ve some tentative ideas for a whole new story for Catherine, Clare and Ryan.
How important was it that you gave Catherine a sense of triumph at the end of this series? It is triumph, but it’s also that she’s laid things to rest. She’s finally seen some kind of justice done, even though it’s never going to bring her daughter back. We assume that Tommy is going down for a long time and that Catherine can now move forward with her life.
It seemed significant that Ann Gallagher survived her ordeal and didn’t end up as a body on a slab… Yes, it was almost like Ann had become a surrogate for Becky. Catherine had been unable to save her daughter, but she was able to save Ann. I found that very cathartic to write. Catherine has a great sense of responsibility and she’s a police officer who genuinely wants to go out there and make a difference.
Catherine’s relationship with Clare is very prominent throughout – do you consciously write stories about women who are defined by other women? Women do have very strong relationships with each other and you don’t often see that dramatised on telly. In fact, friendship itself isn’t dramatised terribly well on television. I suppose I do like reflecting on friendships. A lot of warmth and humour can come from the relationships that women have with each other.
Was it also crucial that you showed why Tommy Lee Royce turned out the way he had? I hate the idea of presenting people as black and white. Catherine isn’t perfect – she’s got a hell of a lot wrong with her. And I also didn’t want to make Tommy completely despicable. His relationship with Ryan was interesting because it could have gone either way. There’s a level on which he’d really like to look after him. Giving him beer and cigarettes is – initially at least – a misguided way of Tommy showing his son affection. Eventually, he does end up using the beer as a perverse kind of weapon but, in the beginning, it’s all he has to give him.
Is there a difference between the violence against women shown in Happy Valley and what we see in shows like Luther and The Fall, where it can seem like borderline titillation? I haven’t seen enough of Luther to be able to comment, but I did watch The Fall and I think Happy Valley is very different. Titillation is when it’s beautifully lit and when you linger on things for a long time as they did in The Fall. We thought long and hard over what we should and shouldn’t show, but we needed to see what extremities Tommy was capable of in order for Catherine to be the hero.
And Happy Valley wasn’t gratuitous? People who criticise Happy Valley for being gratuitous are naive because I think we did it very responsibly. We showed the horrific fallout in episode five and how Catherine was hospitalised for weeks and damaged psychologically by what she’d been through. It was the reality of how you would be affected by that level of violence. Gratuitous violence is what you see on video games, Game of Thrones or – from what I’ve heard – things like Luther. There, you don’t even know who the victim is and it’s just a body on a slab in a morgue. The violence in Happy Valley was about women who we knew and cared for. And that was the whole point.
What I thought was also significant was the way we saw Catherine lashing out – it is quite unusual to see women on dramas finding a physical solution to a problem… That’s to do with the instinct a mother has for somebody who has damaged her children. One of my sons, Felix, once got chased at the local park by a man. Felix was about eight-years-old and I wasn’t there at the time. But I was so angered by the horror of what might have happened to my son that I could have cheerfully beaten that man up. Felix wasn’t physically harmed because he ran away, but I felt a helplessness as a result. Maybe that’s where part of Catherine’s story came from. Certainly, the repulsion and anger I felt was indescribable.
It seems that Happy Valley and your previous drama Last Tango in Halifax have both been genuine word of mouth hits – what response have you had from viewers? The response to Last Tango was amazing and overwhelming. But Happy Valley has been even bigger. I’ve never known anything like it. People have been really impressed by Sarah Lancashire’s performance. And I think it’s to do with the character too – I’ve provided her with this character and she’s really brought it to life.
Where are you at with series three of Last Tango in Halifax? I’m writing episode five at the moment. We start filming in four weeks’ time and everyone’s back for the new series.
And is it true that you’re taking a back seat on the fourth series of Scott & Bailey? I’ve got an executive producer’s credit, which means means I read the scripts and get to comment on the edit. But I’m not really involved in it at all. However, I’ve left it in such good hands with Nicola Shindler and Amelia Bullmore, who’s taken over as lead writer.
And, finally, we have to talk about that closing scene from episode four of Happy Valley in which Catherine staggered across the street after being injured while freeing Ann – what was it like directing that moment? It felt very emotional that these two women were helping each other like that. On the day, you’re bogged down in technicalities, but at one point I did just stand by the monitors thinking, ‘oh my God, Sarah Lancashire’s on her knees in this street in the middle of Yorkshire’. I was blown away by her performance.
And was it your idea to have the credits roll over the sound of that crackling, beeping radio? Yes, that came in during the edit. As soon as we put that sound on, a chill went up our spines because we’d last heard that noise when PC Kirsten McAskill had been killed earlier in the series. So we said, “well, why don’t we just forget about the music and have the radio noise running all the way through the credits?” And then we asked the BBC if we could have a special dispensation so that nobody would make any crass announcements during the credits. And they agreed!