Thursday, October 9, 2014

MOVIE WEEKEND: HAPPY VALLEY

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

This week's show isn't a movie. It's a BBC series that has six episodes and is also called a Netflix Original Series. It's Happy Valley (2014, Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming).


I noticed this advertisement on Netflix Streaming and thought it looked interesting because the actress is on Last Tango In Halifax, another BBC six-episode per season series that I've seen on PBS. Two seasons of Last Tango are available, and a third is in the works. Willy Dunne Wooters and I are smitten with Last Tango. WDW says it is about us (the love story with the older couple).

Then Rita of SoulComfort's Corner mentioned Happy Valley to me. Rita and I tend to like the same movies and TV shows. I rely on her opinion. She said she had watched Happy Valley on Netflix Streaming and gotten so caught up in it that she stayed up till two a.m. to finish the series.

I told Willy Dunne Wooters about it. He agreed we should give it a try. The weekend before last we watched the first two episodes. After the second one, WDW said, If I didn't have to go to work in the morning I'd stay up till two to watch the rest of this show.

This past weekend we viewed the rest of the series--four episodes. Heavens to Betsy! We couldn't believe how compelling and frightening and poignant this show is. We felt as if we were watching real life.

The actress from Last Tango is named Sarah Lancashire, and she's now the top of the pops with me. She's good in Tango, but in Happy Valley she's nothing short of amazing. She plays a police sergeant named Catherine Cawood who lives with her eight-year-old grandson, whose mother (Sarah's daughter) committed suicide; and her sister, a former heroin addict. Catherine's husband left her because he couldn't bear to be around Ryan, the grandson, who exists because their daughter was raped by a man named Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton, who is just about as creepy as it gets).

One day Cawood thinks she sees Royce, and she's right. He's been released from prison. Nothing good will come of that. Royce's presence, Ryan and Catherine's problems at home, Catherine's problems at work, and the kidnapping of a local girl had us spellbound. I cried a few tears three or four times because the show is so intense. It also features some comic relief sarcastic asides. I don't think WDW cried, but he loves the show, too.

Happy Valley is brilliantly written, and I'll go so far as to call it a show about female empowerment. The women demonstrate great emotional strength most of the time; they have the occasional breakdown or fit of temper--only human, they aren't hysterical females. Moreover, Catherine Cawood is quite the kick ass cop. She holds her own against some very tough men and shows no fear. She's a great role model. She does whatever it takes to perform her duties.

This show is not for children, and I'd think twice about allowing teens to watch it. In fact, if you're of the sensitive variety and prone to nightmares, it might not be for you.

Here's a piece of trivia about the series that's not so trivial: The show is set in Yorkshire, as is Last Tango. Catherine says she's going to Heptonstall to visit her daughter's grave. I thought, That sounds familiar. I believe that's where Sylvia Plath is buried (Plath is one of my two favorite poets; the other is Emily Dickinson).

Catherine kneels at her daughter's grave. Nearby, I see a grave that looks familiar. It has a great number of tulips on it. Could that be Sylvia Plath's grave? I wondered. Her devotees often leave tulips on her grave. I've never been there, but I've seen photos of it. It's a rather distinct grave. I checked in with my friend Google and learned that yes, the scenes with the daughter's grave were filmed very close to Plath's grave. Ryan mentions pens on the grave, too. I learned online that Plath's fans also leave pens on her grave.

At first, I thought, What an interesting coincidence! They were near Sylvia Plath's grave, and I recognized it.

Then I gave it more thought. Catherine's daughter killed herself; Sylvia Plath killed herself. Catherine's daughter had a young son; Plath had two young children. Catherine's daughter had been treated horrifically by a man; Plath was treated horrifically by her husband, who left her and their two young children to have an affair with another woman. Catherine's husband has "replaced" her with a new wife; Plath's husband, Ted Hughes, replaced Plath with the other woman, although he did not marry her. Eventually, the other woman killed herself.

I can't imagine these connections are mere coincidence. I believe that shooting near Plath's grave was a deliberate decision. Plath has become a feminist icon as a great poet and as a woman who tried to have it all (poet, writer, wife, mother, homemaker, promoter of her husband's career--Ted Hughes eventually became the poet laureate of England), only to have her husband destroy their family. Plath had long been subject to deep depressions, yet her husband left her to fend for herself and their two young children. I'm not saying he didn't provide her with money for their care. He withdrew his emotional support and abandoned her.

Shooting scenes where Plath's grave can be seen seems to me to be an announcement that this series is a feminist show. It's about women who are remarkably brave. It's also about women who can be brought low because they are female, who are trampled on by men. The feminist struggle continues.


Happy Valley, created and written by Sally Wainwright--also the creator and writer of Last Tango In Halifax--earns The Janie Junebug & Willy Dunne Wooters Seal of Highest, Exceptional Love and Approval. It's as good as watching an excellent feature film. Better than most.

A second season of Happy Valley is scheduled to appear in 2015.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug

32 comments:

  1. This sounds like an interesting series. We haven't signed up on Netflix but I've thought about it lately. They are cutting edge in original programmin.
    R

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    1. Their streaming just keeps getting better. The price is quite reasonable.

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  2. This was a fabulous thriller series! I saw it last year in UK - it had us all on the edge of our seats. Gritty but with heartfelt characters. Wish I could write like that!

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    1. I would like to write like that, too, Pat, but I don't have it in me.

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  3. Hi, Janie! Mrs. Shady is a BBC junkie and I watch most of the shows she watches. Programs about female empowerment are of particular interest to her.

    (Oddly, that does not include the Colts-Broncos match-up!)

    I will surely let her know about Happy Valley and Last Tango.

    Thanks for the review, dear Janie, and enjoy your Thursday!.

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    1. Last Tango is very sweet, although they have family problems. Happy Valley is terrifying, but in a "can't stop watching" way.

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  4. I love a tale with a strong woman; the pushovers make me cranky. And you know you don't want me to be flippin' cranky. Rays of pleasantry should be radiating from my body at all times.

    Love, Cherdo

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    1. Have you been exposed to something, dear? I know you were a nurse. Rays should not emanate from your body. I shall do my part to keep you from crankiness.

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  5. Janie, certainly sounds like a great series to watch. How much disaster can one family endure? Makes my life look pretty simple and mundane.

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    1. Everything is relative. We all have our problems--some people more than others, but whatever the problems are, they can be quite overwhelming. I have felt overwhelmed many times.

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  6. Janie,looks like a great show to watch, although pretty intense. How much can one family endure?

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    1. So kind of you to comment twice. Shows you really care. ;-)

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  7. Yes, I agree. Last Tango was/is/will be brilliant and so is/was? Happy Valley.So is Sarah Lancashire in whatever she does. No bland Hollywood dumb pretty face, she.

    But I can’t agree with you about Hughes. Feminists have ripped him to shreds but since the early days Hughes has been absolved from ‘ill-treatment’ of Plath, and by the time of his death opinions had changed and a truer picture of the Plath/Hughes menage has emerged.

    I think I won’t go further than that and leave both of them to rest in peace.

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    1. Obviously, I disagree about Hughes and Plath. I am a Plathian, but let's not allow the disagreement to come between us. Sarah Lancashire is outstanding. She's fast becoming one of my favorite actresses.

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  8. There are a lot of quality programs on TV right now and difficult choices have to be made since many are on at the same time and we can't record them all. I haven't seen Happy Valley but it sounds compelling.

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    1. There aren't enough hours in the day to do everything that must be done and still see all the fascinating shows. I put "real life" above TV, but I learn so much from some documentaries and series that it's almost as great as reading a good book.

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  9. Hey...not only have I finally heard of one of your shows, I actually have it in my quay-way. I haven't watched it yet though. Glad to know it's worthwhile.

    -andi

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  10. Sounds like a lot of tragedy in that family!

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    1. Yes. I think most families have some sort of tragedy. After all, my ex-husband thought he was God. His mental illness was tragic, and probably still is.

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  11. I think you are right about it not being a coincidence that she was near Sylvia Plath. I sort of hate her husband who managed to bring two women so low they killed themselves. I suppose he knew the type woman he could so horribly influence.

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    1. I detest Ted Hughes. I detested him when he was alive. I detest him in death. He became an extremely wealthy man in large part because he was still married to Sylvia when she died. Selling her poetry, book, and journals brought him a fortune. He made Assia Wevill miserable. She killed their daughter when she killed herself. Hughes has a number of defenders, including his daughter Frieda. I find it interesting that when Frieda writes about what a great father he was, I've never seen her mention the woman who lived with them and her half-sister who died. Although he remained married to his second wife, Carol, until his death, he humiliated her with his numerous affairs. Many "friends" turned on Plath soon after she died, when she couldn't defend herself. Hughes had plenty of years to defend himself, and did everything he could to make himself famous and popular, while whining about how awful it was to be married to Plath. He only became poet laureate after someone else turned it down.

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  12. Sounds good. I'll watch it. I saw Mortified Nation last night. I bet you would like it better than I did. I'll let you check it out on streaming.

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  13. I will definitely be checking this out on Netflix! My tv died last night, so just as soon as I get a new one, ha ha :)

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    1. Now we get a TV and it works for years, usually with no problems. When I was a kid, the TV repairman used to come to our house, and even then, the TV barely worked.

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  14. It's extra awesome that the two of you enjoyed the show so much together. And look at you, smarty pants, picking up on the Plath symbolism.

    I'm not sure I'll put this on my to-watch list. It sounds great, and I love well drawn female characters, but I think I'm in the wimpy nightmare-prone category.

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    1. Parts of it bothered me, but not enough to stop watching. I don't like horror/slasher movies, but I can watch just about anything else--especially if it's medically related. I don't know if I'm right re: the Plath connection, but it sure is interesting that they filmed so close to her grave.

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  15. I can hardly wait for the next season! So glad you guys enjoyed it as much as I did. :) :)

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    1. It's too long between seasons with all of our favorites!

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  16. And now the actor who played Tommy Lee Royce has been recognised for his talents and is playing the lead role in a new show about a detective-vicar called 'Grantchester'. It's very good.

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    1. I think I'll always be afraid of that actor.

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