It was a sad moment on Sunday evening when HAPPY VALLEY finally came to an end after 3 series – this has quite simply been one of the best TV dramas of the past 20 or years (and not just in the UK). On courses I have run, I have done a page-to-screen analysis of Season 1 Episode 1 as a brilliant example of a gripping pilot episode. But I could happily spend several hours talking about examples of the writing brilliance in every single one of the 18 episodes.
So this fortnight’s newsletter is a brief appreciation of some of the wonderful moments in the 3rd and final series, in particular in that final episode. NB THIS NEWSLETTER CONTAINS SPOILERS! So if you haven’t yet had the privilege of watching the show, I would suggest you skip past the HAPPY VALLEY CONTENT of this newsletter until you have, onto the screenwriting and script-editing course information at the bottom of the page!
What a wonderful 18 episodes that was; and what an achievement to bring the show back after 7 years, picking up the quality so seamlessly from where it left off. It is a screenwriting masterclass – there for all of us to enjoy and appreciate on repeat.
The flair, the unexpectedness, the joy in the writing thrilled me. So many scenes fizzed with life (eg the sequence in ep 1 in which the furious Rob Hepworth arrives back at his house to confront and attack his wife – this sequence was upsetting because it felt so real and visceral).
Here are some more of the things about the last episode and the 3rd series as a whole that I loved –
That memorable shot of Catherine asleep in her chair and Tommy peeping up through the window without seeing her. Shots like that imprint themselves on your brain. Such narrative power in visual tableaus.
Another memorable shot / moment – as Tommy arrives at the top of the hill on his bike, takes his helmet off and revels in the freedom and open spaces. A small visual moment so loaded with emotion and meaning – and the way it made you empathise with Tommy was brilliantly uncomfortable. (From ep 5)
The little girl who never took her coat off – such a memorable, heart-breaking detail.
I loved the way the final showdown mirrored the very opening sequence of S1 ep1. The best writing is circular – and this was the ultimate example.
I loved how every single character had their own inner life, their own agenda, strengths, weaknesses and specific qualities. Joanna, Rob, Faisal – these sub-plots worked because there was such detailed humanity to each of these characters and the holes they had dug for themselves – Faisal’s middle-class, family-man image, the difference between his reality and the facade; Joanna’s desperate personal life, the vicious spiral of Rob’s abuse and her drug dependency; Rob was not likeable but he was believable in his abuse of power, his manipulation of others (the scene between him and Ryan in the sports hall was chilling because it felt so credible). The character detail is so rich and well-observed.
I loved how the characters run through the gamut of emotions – how Catherine is at times infected by hate, the way good characters say such awful, hurtful things to each other (in particular Catherine to Clare).
I loved the cleverness and unexpectedness of the plotting – for instance Tommy getting to Ryan through his games console; and the completely credible notion that none of the (older) family members would even have considered this.
And the dynamics of that Tommy / Ryan dialogue scene were so fraught and gripping – as we wondered just how much compromising information Ryan would give Tommy
I loved the way all three series were driven by backstory, by what had happened before series one begun (Becky’s death). This event that we never witnessed, this character that we never met, were what underpinned and drove all three series.
There was passion, love and sadness in the key characters. The scene for instance in episode 5 in which Ann Gallagher launches into a tirade in which she tells Ryan things he’s never heard before about Tommy felt so heartfelt and dangerous.
I loved the way the show leaned into familiar crime drama series tropes – drug dealing, gangsters, police investigations – but did so with such flair, with so much invested in the characters. So, for instance, in series 3, one of the characters who stood out for me was the tragic Joanna – a character who came across as so raw and vulnerable.
And in so many of the story strands, Sally Wainwright’s rage at social and economic injustice shone through and drove the story forward.
Every single character has their own quirks and agenda, that makes them distinctive, makes each of them an integral and engaging part of the story.
There is a bedrock of humanity in Sally Wainwright’s writing. It’s clear she cares deeply about the characters she has created, Catherine, Claire, Ryan, Richard, Anne – even Tommy. This communicates to us, I felt so invested in Catherine as a character and in her relationship with her sister Claire (their embrace at the end was a huge relief!)
Those rare gems like HAPPY VALLEY remind me why I love working in this world of screenwriters and their creations.
Finally, the scheduling, the rare fact that it was one episode a week at 9pm on a Sunday evening, elevated the show, made it into the TV event it deserved to be, gave it more of a communal feel as so many people watched simultaneously and then talked about it together.
GREENLIGHT SCREENWRITING LAB
I’m delighted to be launching this new initiative for Irish screenwriters with Irish production company Danu Media. This is a course for new Irish writers – resident in Ireland or elsewhere.
– and also for budding Irish script editors – we will also be looking for three shadow script editors –
Applications for writers open this coming Monday February 13th and will close on Saturday March 4th. Applications for shadow script editors are open now.
All the information about the course is on the page on my website.
One Day Introduction To Screenwriting Course Sunday March 12th
There are still some places available on this course, where we will be graced by the presence of 2 brilliant guest speakers – producer and MD of Dancing Ledge Productions, Laurence Bowen – who will be analysing and discussing the pilot episode of his company’s show, THE RESPONDER, written by Tony Schumacher; and screenwriter Kitty Percy, an alumni of the Channel 4 screenwriting course who has had a number of very impressive screenwriting credits since then.
One Day Introduction To Script Editing Course London Friday March 10th
I am running this one day SCRIPT EDITING course in association with excellent training organisation, Think Bigger.
The next newsletter will be on Friday February 24th.
February 10th 2023