The third, and final, series of Happy Valley, a drama set in Halifax, is set to be released on BBC iPlayer on 1 January 2023. The show is returning after an almost seven-year break, as series two aired in February 2016. I went to the premiere in Halifax to meet James Norton and Siobhan Finneran, to find out more about their experiences filming the show over its duration.
Halifax’s Happy Valley
Finneran has positive things to say about main character (Catherine Cawood) and director Sarah Lancashire, who makes an appearance at the Q&A later at the event. She says that working with Lancashire is what she enjoys most about being a part of the show:
“Filming it I get to do lots of acting with Sarah Lancashire who I love, and think is a genius.”
Norton credits his enjoyable experience to Sally Wainwright, who is the writer of Happy Valley:
“Actors are drawn to scripts and character and Sally Wainwright writes the best characters and the best dialogue. It’s a real privilege to be able to come and do the work and do it at the highest level with the best writer and director and actors. That’s what we do this job for, the material.”
He also mentions his love for Yorkshire and how great it was to come back for the show so that he could return to his roots: “I grew up in Northeast Yorkshire, so coming up here, it’s the most magical part of the world with the most beautiful hills.”
Admiration for writer Sally Wainwright
When asked what he thought of Tommy as a character and what it was like to play the part, Norton says he was not a difficult character to play, rather that he loved how complicated Tommy is.
“Most actors want the chewy, meaty kind of complicated puzzles to work out. You don’t want something to be the pantomime hero or villain. You want it to feel like one moment you want to kill the guy and then another second you want to hug him and so to be able to find all that colour and texture in a character is what you want from a role. Tommy is that in a nutshell. I love the complications and complexities. Sally is too good a writer to draw tropes. She always lives in the grey, the reality of humanity.”
Norton continues to compliment Wainwright throughout the interview, and it is very clear how much the cast, Norton especially, admire her abilities as a writer. He tells me, “Writers can sometimes write only one character the way they speak, the role which they are identifying with. Sally can write everyone. She will write Tommy as detailed and specific and natural as she’ll write Clare and Catherine. How she manages to get into every character’s headspace so intimately and represent them so beautifully in dialogue is very clever.”
When Finneran is asked what it is she admires about the writing, she too mentions Wainwright’s exceptional gift for dialogue:
“Sally writes the way people speak and it’s not always that easy to do that. Some writers can get lost in their own world and add bits on that when you give that to an actor they say, ‘Can I strip a bit of this away please?’. With Sally’s writing you just want to do all of it.”
Happy Valley Q&A
James Norton, Siobhan Finneran, Sarah Lancashire and producer, Jessica Taylor participated in a Q&A following the screening of series three, episode one, to those of the seven thousand applicants who were lucky enough to get tickets. Questions were asked by an interviewer from the BBC, members of the audience, and the public, who could send in their questions on Twitter using the hashtag #HappyValleyFinale.
Lancashire was asked by the interviewer what made the show come back for a third series, after such a long break. She replied that they “needed to wait for Ryan to be sixteen” for the next plot and that they are the “only show to shoot in real time”. Ryan Cawood, Catherine Cawood’s grandson, was ten years old in series two, but because of the wait the original actor, Rhys Connah, was able to return to play Ryan again as a 16-year-old in series three.
The cast were also asked why they think the show has been so popular, even outside the UK, a fact confirmed later by an audience member from New York wanting to know when the show would be available in the US (the date is still unconfirmed). Norton believes that “relationships are the reason it worked” and that “Sally encapsulates family life”. Finneran confirmed this by saying that the “relationship between the sisters is important”.
Yorkshire’s beloved show
The show takes dark topics and makes them more easily digestible by letting us see them through the lens of a woman who is family oriented, something a lot of people can relate to. In the show, Catherine Cawood is a rock for Clare and Ryan, and an inspiration as a police officer for the community. Its being set in Yorkshire is also obviously a bonus!
Happy Valley is a beloved show and fans have been waiting for its return for years. If you have never heard of the show until now, you still have chance to binge watch the first two series so that you can catch series three when it airs on New Year’s Day.