Happy Valley writer hits back over violence criticism

sally wainwright
sally wainwright

Calderdale writer Sally Wainwright has defendended the brutal and graphic scenes in the hit BBC 1 drama Happy Valley.

Millions of viewers are on tenterhooks following last week’s episode, when police sergeant Catherine Cawood, played by Bafta winner Sarah Lancashire, was left for dead and her bloodied face filling the screen as the credits rolled.

These scenes along with others in the series have been met with criticism of the programme’s writer from Mediawatch-UK, which campaigns for more regulation, the the Daily Mail newspaper.

Responding to the criticism she told the Observer she was “saddened” that the Mail had picked up on the attack on Cawood and a previous incident when a young woman police officer was crushed to death and had “tried to make a thing of it, when shows like Game of Thrones have so much gratuitous violence against lots of people”.

“This is a quality, well-written drama. I think it is childish [of the Daily Mail]. I think it has backfired on them. Judging by the amount of email, texts, tweets I’ve had, I don’t think anyone is asking me to apologise. I’m sorry if some people found it too much. You can always turn the telly off.

“I directed and edited last week’s episode, the first time I have done so,” she said, adding that all the close-up shots and treatment were carefully considered. “It showed what a heroic and responsible human being Catherine is. How she is prepared to put her life on the line in order to save someone else.”

Cawood finds Ann, 22, the daughter of a local millionaire businessman, imprisoned in a cellar. One of the kidnappers, a psychopathic murderer called Tommy Lee Royce, attacks Cawood, but Ann struggles free in time to knock him out. Wainwright said: “What was particularly uplifting was that Ann, though suffering a terrible ordeal, had the presence of mind to rescue the woman who went to save her. Out of darkness something uplifting and beautiful happened. The Daily Mail have shot themselves in the foot.”

Explaining the bloodied face of Sarah Lancashire’s character she said: “If you get your head smacked against the wall, you bleed. It’s life.

“Drama is about the dark side. How bad things happen to good people. All the women in this are seen to suffer in some way.”

Wainwright explained that the brutal death of the young policewoman was all part of the dynamics of the drama, to deliberately change the tempo. “It showed how much of a psychopath he [Tommy] is. It upped the ante hugely – just what is this man is capable of? “I think violence is shocking. If violence on screen was so regular and people barely noticed it, that would be gratuitous. I hate gratuitous violence.

“I used to be a feminist. Then I became a post-feminist. But I do worry about the levels of violence in video games, and how casually they treat women. It is … run of the mill. I don’t think we can be complacent.”

Happy Valley, which is the current top-rated TV drama, with an audience share of 27% and consolidated ratings heading towards eight million.