Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Happy Valley (BBC One) and Hinterland (BBC 4) - TV reviews

Happy Valley, on BBC One, and Hinterland, on BBC Four, have now been running for three episodes each. Happy Valley is a single story, divided into hour-long episodes, whereas Hinterland features a different case over an hour and a half each week, but although the two shows are quite distinct, they have some things in common, most importantly good writing. From a personal point of view, I'm familiar with (and very keen on) the settings of both shows. Happy Valley is filmed around the Hebden Bridge area, the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire, close to the Pennines. Hinterland is set in and around Aberystwyth, and features places like Borth and Devil's Bridge as well as the beautiful, if often brooding, Welsh landscape.

Some critics have compared the bleak mood of Hinterland with that of the various Scandinavian noir shows that have proliferated in recent years, and it doesn't suffer by comparison.This is an unusual show, because the stories were shot first in Welsh and then in English, which must have been hard work for everyone involved, but the result is worthwhile. Hinterland may lack a Kenneth Branagh, but to my mind, mid-Wales is at least as enticing a backdrop for a crime series as anywhere in Scandinavia, and I'm surprised we've had to wait so long for it to be used to such good effect. I don't think the quality of the murder mystery plots is quite at the level of those of, say, the Wallander stories, and it's a shame that the interesting novels of Lindsey Ashford, who lives in Borth and has set her enjoyable books in that area, have not been adapted for television as yet. Overall, though, Hinterland is definitely worth watching.

Happy Valley unquestionably delivers on plot, and much else besides. The series is written by the gifted Sally Wainwright, and stars Sarah Lancashire as the thoroughly decent small town detective who finds herself mixed up in a kidnapping case in which she has a personal reason to hate the worst of the bad guys. There were some uncertainties of tone in the first episode, in which an accountant makes a spur of the moment decision to encourage a criminal acquaintance to kidnap the daughter of his boss. At that point, I wondered if we were in for a black comedy, or perhaps some form of criminal quasi-soap opera (an unfeasible number of the characters suffer from serious illness or other misfortunes.) But since then, the story has settled down and become a powerful thriller with plenty of twists in the plot and subtlety in the characterisation.

Sarah Lancashire may be best known as a former soap star, but she is a very good actor, and her performance in Happy Valley is terrific. I'm also impressed by the way the dynamics in the relationships between the kidnappers are shifting. There are a few light moments, but on the whole, the story is pretty dark, and certainly gripping. I am really eager to watch next week's instalment.

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