Have you been watching … Happy Valley?

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Happy Valley now in its second series, has deservedly received much praise from audiences and critics alike. Much of the praise, particularly from critics, has surrounded the progressive portrayal of women, largely in the form of Sarah Lancashire’s Catherine Cawood. Catherine is compelled to imbue her everyday interactions with pathos in order to deal with the horrific details of her past (as revealed early on in series one) largely surrounding the suicide of her daughter after her rape at the hands of Tommy Lee Royce.

In this week’s episode (2:3) Catherine is required to accept that she must attend counselling sessions in place of enforced early retirement. The catalyst of this rhetoric stems from her inappropriately attending a funeral in order to witness the attendance of Tommy Lee Royce – an event which causes disruption for those in attendance.

Whilst watching this episode, it occurred to me that much of the discussion in regards to the progressive representation of women has surrounded Catherine. Thus ignoring another, and in my opinion just as powerful, representation of a female character, that of Ann Gallagher (Charlie Murphy) the kidnapped victim of series one.

Writer Sally Wainwright has rather wonderfully seen fit to return to the character of Ann, whose kidnap and subsequent abuse was the central conceit of the original narrative. In the first series Ann’s character is more of a cipher – a motivational symbol for Catherine. We learn little of her character aside from the money that she represents. We have been privy to her experience at the hands of Tommy Lee Royce, but Royce saw fit to literally prevent her from speaking through taping her mouth – thus Ann’s character had very little narrative voice.

In returning to Ann, Wainwright shows her audience that Ann’s story is not only worth experiencing, but that it has not ended. Her character’s narrative doesn’t simply end with her rescue, there is far more to her and Wainwright is determined to show us. Ann, thus far, has proven to be a determined and brave woman. She does not cower away from the more upsetting details of a case and is keen to impress her superiors. Even more powerfully, Ann, in her current role as Community Police Officer, expresses her desire to become a detective despite her father’s objections. Truly, Wainwright’s decision to return to Ann’s character is commendable, directly standing against the women as victim trope. Yes, Ann was a victim, but she is victim no longer.

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