By: J. Lynn Stapleton
In the past few days, I’ve read articles from various news sources (Daily Mail, Guardian, Digital Spy) along with blog reviews, and part of a BBC Women’s Hour Podcast of the new BBC hit series, Happy Valley, a brilliantly written drama set in the West Yorkshire area of Calderdale; the articles discussing the level of violence portrayed, specifically in the last two episodes, which saw a young police constable, Kirsten McAskill, killed by Tommy Lee Royce backing over her with a car multiple times because she happened to stop a van carrying his kidnapped prey, Ann Nevison. A woman he’d kidnapped but had taken it upon himself to also rape (though not shown) in an earlier episode. In addition, when finding Sgt Cawood in his mother’s home rescuing Ann, Royce badly battered Sgt. Cawood.
There were apparently 15 reported complaints about the violence against women made to the BBC. When you compare that to the over 13,000 tweets on Tuesday (20th May) night into late Wednesday, praising the series for best drama they’ve seen, I think that needs to be taken into consideration. Personally, I think the Mail has taken it out of context and blown the issue up further than necessary. The show is broadcast after the 9pm watershed point and there is a violence warning given before the episode airs.
This is most definitely not to say that I agree with all portrayals of violence against women. One only has to look at the horrifying incident on Friday in California, where a 22 year-old man shot and stabbed 7 people because he was rejected by women, or the numerous other incidences of violence against women, both in real life and in film or television. I do object to the gratification to gratuitous violence against women.
That said, however, what I saw in Happy Valley over the last few weeks, I didn’t find gratuitous. Yes, it shocked me and left me shaking. It should have. When gratuitous violence against women no longer shocks me, THAT’s when I should be worried. Taken into context, there’s a few points I’d like to make. Tommy Lee Royce is a violent individual. He’s attacked and beaten up both men (Lewis) and women (Ann and Catherine), and threatened the life of his boss, he’s beat the crap out of his own drug-addled mother, as a means to an end. He’s psychopathic, in that he really doesn’t care who he hurts, and he’s not afraid to take it to extreme methods.
On the other end, you have police officers hurt and killed. I really think, given Royce’s psychopathy, that even if McAskill or Cawood had been male officers, Royce still would not have seen any reason not to do the same, to avoid being caught, arrested and sent back to prison. That is the reality police officers, men and women, face when they go out in the streets to protect and serve; sometimes they are faced with violence. That is realistic. To pretend otherwise, or to not include the violence in Happy Valley, where the police routinely deal with the effects of drugs on populations, would be a disservice to the story, and to the violence that police officers face in real-life similar situations.
Catherine Cawood is deeply affected by McAskill’s death. She takes it to heart, even as she had reprimanded the officer only the episode before for taking a bullying from an inebriated politician. Catherine genuinely cares about the people she works with and the people she’s there to protect and serve.
In that last episode this past week, at the end of the episode, you see Ann, the kidnapped woman, free herself and come to the assistance of Sgt. Catherine Cawood. Finding what was at hand (a dumbbell weight) and hitting Royce in the head with it to back him off the senior police officer. Battered and bruised herself, Ann helps get the battered Catherine out of the basement and out onto the street. With Ann secured in the back of the police car, Catherine calls for help before collapsing in the street.
There are two more episodes to go, and frankly, though I’m anxious to see how Catherine and Ann come through this ordeal, I can hardly wait for the last two to air. Having been watching many series via marathoning episodes, this is one series that I haven’t been able to wait until the end to marathon them. This series is definitely ‘watercooler’ conversation material…or for that matter, social media conversation, if Twitter was anything to go by on Tuesday night, Wednesday and beyond.
Some of the articles posted this past week.
Anna Howell (Unreality Primetime) – BBC inundated with complaints over violent Happy Valley! Furore over bloody Sarah Lancashire!
Chris Hastings (Daily Mail): Dehumanising and anti-women? No, Happy Valley is feminist TV, its creators insist after show features brutal kidnapping of mother by rapist
Cathy Owen (Wales Online): Why I’m more than happy with the gory side of Happy Valley
BBC Women’s Hour – Violence Against Women in Drama – Jenni Murray interviews writer Sally Wainwright and Karen Lewis of Red Production Co.