In Sally Wainwright’s series there is no peace for the good: Sergeant Catherine Cawood faces new threats months before she retires
Representations in fiction of tough and strong women have always been. What happens is that, the times they have been drawn like this, either they have added a plus of evil or they have sophisticated them with a good suit, expensive wine and a painter’s job. But portraits of women in their forties, more like our neighbor from the room than a flashy lawyer and with a body and a face that reflect what has happened to them in life, and not the expertise of a plastic surgeon, not abound. For this reason, the irruption of the character of Sergeant Catherine Cawood in the magnificent ‘Happy Valley’ in 2014 was a more than interesting anomaly.
Because Cawood is hard stone from Chipiona. Or Yorkshire, rather, the place where the action of the series takes place. But it’s not the Yorkshire of beautiful landscapes and endless vibrant green countryside of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, but a gray, leaden, muddy, mist-shrouded, bone-chilling cold county. A valley that seems anything but happy.
Neither is the protagonist. As an introduction, in the first chapter she says «I am Catherine, 47 tacos, divorced, I live with my sister, a former heroin addict. She had two older children, one died, the other does not speak to me, and a grandson ». In just two sentences, Cawood sums up the tragedies she endures: her daughter becomes pregnant after a brutal rape committed by a psychopath, Tommy Lee Royce, and she ends up committing suicide shortly after having the baby. The sergeant decides to take care of her grandson, a decision that ends her marriage. And yes, her sister Clare, the one she lives with, was a junkie. But Catherine is still there, standing up, resisting.
All of this was told to us in two seasons by Sally Wainwright, a specialist in up-and-coming ladies (she is also responsible for ‘Gentleman Jack’), through the character played by Sarah Lancashire. The actress, who endows the protagonist with tenderness and honesty, but also with strength and courage, is the center of an excellent cast and a story that, sprinkled with bitter humor and great disappointment, intertwines family dramas and everyday mishaps with police cases.
Six years after the end of the second season, ‘Happy Valley’ returns to Movistar Plus+ to face its third and final installment. After a break in which Lancashire took the opportunity to put herself in Julia Child’s shoes and body (another joyous job), she resumes the character of a Catherine who counts the hours to retire and drive the Land Rover she has bought to the Himalayas : “I have seven months, a week and three days left to retire,” he tells his sister (Siobhan Finneran, the lousy maid from ‘Downton Abbey’) in one of those fabulous conversations they have in front of a bottle of wine, but not very expensive, but a quarrel. Catherine is determined to become the person she has always wanted to be.
But in Sally Wainwright’s series there is no peace for the good guys: while the stories of an abuser, a pharmacist involved in small-time drug trafficking and a gang of gangsters who are dedicated to drug trafficking and slavery ( the violence that men exert on women is very present in the series, as is the misogyny that Catherine herself suffers in her work, and that is reflected in the magnificent scene that opens this third season), Tommy Lee Royce, played by James Norton (the hunky Reverend Chambers from ‘Grantchester’, a ‘sexy vicar’ who may overshadow the ‘host priest’ from ‘Fleabag’) returns to Catherine’s life: her grandson Ryan is visiting his father in jail, something that does not bode well. As if that were not enough, the adolescent Ryan shows signs of a violent character, so the grandmother does not stop tormenting herself wondering if she has not inherited this condition from her father.
Amid so much tribulation, the only thing we hope is that, in the remaining episodes until ‘Happy Valley’ ends, its creator gives Sergeant Cawood a break, and she can stop being a Yorkshire hard stone to become a smiling pensioner who travels the world and drinks cheap wine. Because if the grandmother and the grandson (and us) deserve anything, it’s a happy ending. And if that ending includes Tommy Lee getting hit by the Land Rover, so much the better.