Happy Valley series two is well worth the 18 month wait

The Valley may not be happy but fans of Sally Wainwright's superb drama most certainly will be, says Sarah Doran

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In one way, it seems like just yesterday we were hiding behind sofa cushions and chewing off our cuticles as Sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) and Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton) faced off on a barge.

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But it’s been 19 months (615 days, actually, not that we’ve been counting or anything…) and our return to Happy Valley couldn’t come soon enough. 

Especially when it involves Catherine and her sister Clare (Siobhan Finneran) sitting in a back garden and shooting the breeze over a cheeky ciggie, while discussing murder most foul.

Only writer Sally Wainwright could so gloriously craft an opening in which a humorous albeit horrific story about putting a sheep out of its misery veers off into a tale of rape and murder.

From here on in the woman who gave us Last Tango in Halifax and Scott & Bailey sets the stage for an action-packed second visit to Cawood’s Calder Valley beat in West Yorkshire, which she’s policing once again 18 months after sending her daughter’s alleged rapist back behind bars. 

But happily ever after just isn’t on the cards for Sarah Lancashire’s brilliant female police offer – thank heavens! Just think of all the meaty drama we’d be deprived of – and sure enough, it’s not long before the discovery of a body brings her old nemesis back into the fold again (although fans of Norton and Lancashire’s tense on-screen partnership will be disappointed to hear they share just one scene this series).

The corpse brings with it a new investigation and a flood of familiar faces. Another Corrie star-turned-drama stalwart, Katherine Kelly, is on hand to helm the investigation, much to Catherine’s dismay, while Julie ‘HAYLEY!” Hesmondhalgh pops up to play the worried wife of investigating officer John Wadsworth (aka Kevin Doyle, or Mr Molesley from Downton Abbey).

Former Harry Potter co-stars Shirley Henderson and Matthew Lewis bring a sense of menace in their first few minutes on screen. And while many might expect to see Scott and Bailey’s Amelia Bullmore back behind a desk at the police station, she excels in a rather different role this time around.

Never mind The Night Manager, with its promise of Olivia Colman, Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie – Happy Valley series two is teeming with top talent, even if the sheer abundance of famous faces can become a little distracting.

But as always with Wainwright, the story is the real star, and when it comes to serving up a gripping tale she doesn’t disappoint. Tonight’s opener is bursting with tantalising plot threads – both old and new – and dialogue so deliberately mundane that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were eavesdropping down the back of the bus.

By the time the screen fades to black, I wager you’ll be happy to be back in the valley, and feel as though you never really left.

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Happy Valley returns to BBC1 on Tuesday 9th February at 9pm