April 20, 2024

How Happy Valley depicts the spectrum of male violence in all its terrifying glory

“I saw that coming,” said no one watching Happy Valley, ever.  Take Joanna Hepworth, whose husband – Rob Hepworth, a local P. E. teacher – controls, rapes, and tortures her – seemingly for the sheer love of it.

We’re lured into thinking we know the script: she’ll be murdered by her husband, or she’ll murder her husband as the only way to escape his abuse, inevitably going to prison. But instead, she’s attacked by another man, her local pharmacist.

The threat of male violence lurks on Joanna’s periphery, but it only comes into full view when it’s too late. In this way, the show’s writer, Sally Wainwright, brilliantly depicts the brutal reality of violence against women.

Across all three seasons of Happy Valley, Tommy Lee Royce has embodied a pure, unadulterated form of misogyny, reflected through his obvious enjoyment when – in season one alone – he kidnaps and rapes Ann Gallagher, murders PC Kirsten McAskill and kicks the living daylights out of Sergeant Catherine Cawood. A personification of every woman’s worst nightmare, his character resembles the threat of male violence in its most unconcealed form.

How Happy Valley depicts the spectrum of male violence in all its terrifying glory

And yet somehow, Tommy Lee Royce isn’t even the scariest character – not by a mile. That honour belongs to the humdrum family men who populate the sub-plots of each season. Operating under a glossy sheen of respectability – fancy jobs, happy families, and suburban houses – these characters represent a more covert, but no-less-extreme, threat towards the women in their lives.

The first season of Happy Valley introduces us to Kevin Weatherill, an accountant who is a family man (despite getting agitated with his wife occasionally). Except when he needs an injection of cash to pay for his daughter’s schooling – and the traditional route of asking for a raise fails – he enlists the help of violent men to kidnap and ransom a young woman, leading to her being repeatedly assaulted, raped, and left to endure a life of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

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