Happy Valley Series 3 Episode 5 Review: James Norton Kills It As Tommy Lee Royce

Happy Valley’s excellent penultimate episode features a stand-out performance that’s not even by Sarah Lancashire. Spoilers.

Happy Valley 3-5 Siobhan Finneran Sarah Lancashire
Photo: BBC

Warning: this Happy Valley review contains spoilers.

Well, this is embarrassing. Every acting award for this year has already been engraved with the name Sarah Lancashire, but now someone’s going to have to take a sharp screwdriver to a couple and scratch ‘James Norton’ over the top. He deserves one for his guileless delivery of the line “I’ve never been abroad,” and at least one for that episode-ending voice chat.

That was some scene – ultra-tense and skilfully done. We hung on every word, pained by each step Ryan seemed to take closer to the lion’s mouth. Listen carefully though, and it was far from a straightforward exchange. They both sidestepped the other’s questions, changing the subject and withholding their locations. Dodge and feint, dodge and feint. 

They played it with real skill, but it was Norton who shone, taking Tommy Lee Royce from smug euphoria to desperate vulnerability as he pitched their future in the sun. After episodes of menacing silence, this episode finally showed us Royce for exactly what he is: a kid. Excited. Naïve. Sulking. Bullying. Scared. Someone who’s spent most of his adult life behind bars. A tiny, clueless dot in a big landscape. Desperate to impress. 

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Was Ryan impressed by Royce’s escape? He avoided answering, which suggests two things: no (thank God) he wasn’t, and, he doesn’t want to hurt his dad’s feelings. As Ryan told Daniel in another scene whose every word we gobbled up, he pities Royce. And come the finale, that pity could prove just as dangerous as admiration. 

What a line that was. Waiting for it to come, Ryan’s verdict on Royce turned out to matter more to me than the results of most general elections. And when it was finally delivered, what beauty. This boy, feared his whole life to contain the makings of another psychopath, turns out to be pure empathy. He feels sad for Royce, “that he was born like that, needing to be so nasty to people.” There speaks a loved child. The worry is that Ryan’s tender heart will feel that it owes Royce something. 

Ryan’s grace came after Charlie Murphy made a decent case for her own awards-worthiness with Ann’s banshee tirade. The temperature of that! Flames. Actual flames shot from Murphy’s eyes as Ann unleashed on Ryan everything Catherine had always protected him from. Nobody wanted him. It was all his fault. Except that Ann’s words slid off because 16 years of being blasted with love by Catherine, of being hugged, of being read to at night and being irritably, repeatedly told that ‘of’ is not a verb, had built a shield around Ryan. The question for next week’s finale: will it be enough to keep him safe?

The rest of the episode brilliantly played us like the fiddles we are. Richard’s driving to his certain death? No, he isn’t. It was all a diversion so Darius could kidnap Ryan? No, it wasn’t. The boy’s just gone off on his bike unsupervised by that dozy sot Roz. I’ve rarely been happier to be manipulated.

Rob Hepworth’s decision to report Joanna’s murder was yet another surprise, though considering his willingness to call the police on previous occasions, perhaps one that should have been seen coming. The police cordon around the Hepworth house had knocked Faisal off his perch and sent him flapping back to his panicky norm. For good reason too, because Catherine’s DSI is thankfully onto the source of Jo’s pills. Let’s hope there’s justice enough in this world to sort out both Jo’s killer and her abuser. 

Where’s the justice in Catherine being subject to a bullying complaint at work two days before she’s off into the vast blue yonder? There’s none, but it doesn’t look as though Sgt Cawood’s going to lose sleep over it. Her lack of patience with idiots is extremely enjoyable. Talk about not suffering fools gladly.

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Less enjoyable is when Catherine directs those flinty eyes and sharp tongue towards Clare, whom Siobhan Finneran can physically transform into a plateful of jelly when under attack, which must be how Catherine sees her. Poor Clare. Poor all of them. 

Not poor Sally Wainwright, who deserves more than an award for writing this series. Name a street after her, why not. A whole town. Unlike so many other continuing dramas, she’s known the story she’s telling from the start. It’s about a woman stronger than the Humber Bridge whose love gets into the bones of a child like radiotherapy, eliminating the bad and multiplying the good. A story about a hero suffering the worst and staying standing. Well, it had better be, or this time next week we’ll be having words. 

Happy Valley concludes on Sunday the 4th of February at 9pm on BBC One and iPlayer.