Some of the most outstanding TV drama has been broadcast this year, and the majority of it, I’m delighted to say, revolved around women.
A performance that was nothing short of an astounding tour de force from Keely Hawes, investigated by the police’s own anti-corruption unit, commonly referred to as AC-12 and led by PSupt Ted Hastings, played by Adrian Dunbar. Hawes brought breathtaking depth and breadth to the role of DI Lindsay Denton, an officer whose colleagues loathed her. Beginning with a carjacking that ended in the point-blank shooting of a suspect in witness protection, it left viewers as puzzled as to Denton’s innocence or guilt as the officers in AC-12. What part did Denton play? Unwitting pawn, or criminal mastermind? Denton kept us guessing until the final minutes; the scene in which AC-12 set out to grill Denton in the interview room, only to find her turning the tables on them completely, proved Hawes acting chops beyond all doubt.
Written by the inestimable Sally Wainwright, Happy Valley featured the superb Sarah Lancashire in the lead role of Catherine Cawood, a single grandmother bringing up her grandson because her daughter, his mother, committed suicide after being raped. And that rapist is out of prison and back in Calderdale, Yorkshire, where Catherine lives. How’s that for starters?
In what was, without question, some of the most psychologically perceptive writing and acting ever seen on TV, Happy Valley revealed layer underneath layer underneath layer of story and character: of grief, lies, betrayal and love; of unbelievable grit, determination and bravery. It is one of the best television dramas ever broadcast and if you haven’t seen it – and why not? – then I urge you to do so.
The crux of this complex drama was who was the eponymous honourable woman – Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Anglo-Israeli philanthropist Nessa Stein, or Lubna Azabal’s Palestinian confidante-turned-betrayer-turned-Nessa’s-saviour?
In a drama laden with suspense and suspicion in every scene, Nessa sought to atone for the sins of her arms-dealing father by ploughing the family fortune into a fibre-optic network for the West Bank. Inevitably, this initiative attracted powerful enemies on all fronts, including spies on both sides of the Atlantic.
Some people carped about Gyllenhaal’s cut glass English accent and icy withdrawn demeanour, but I found it entirely appropriate as Nessa attempted to isolate herself from emotion in order to protect her mental well-being. Once we learned her back story, it was impossible not to feel anything other than the deepest sympathy for her. Special mention must go to both Janet McTeer and Stephen Rea, who showed us all just how to quietly steal a scene.
I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about this excellent drama so all the details are there for you if you haven’t seen it. I can only add that this gripping two-part drama made it hard for the viewer to ignore the aims of Hacked Off.
I loved every minute of this superbly acted BBC1 drama, right up until the final episode when it cheated appallingly and collapsed in on itself like a half-cooked cake of disappointment. A deathbed confession? A seemingly fatally injured child, who minutes later crawled unseen out of a car boot with only a tiny speck of blood to show for his being comprehensively flattened by a car travelling at speed? And no plot resolution at all? Pah.
It’s interesting that the majority of the best new dramas on television have been broadcast by the Beeb. Good work, Auntie, and more of the same in 2015, please.
One final thought: how the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role is going to be decided is anybody’s guess. Can it be given to Hawes, Lancashire AND Gyllenhaal, please? It’s only fair.