Sunday 6 – Monday 7 November 2016
Many of you will be aware that I’m a fan of British actress Sarah Lancashire. I loved her in Heart and Soul as it was billed in Australia (All The Small Things is how the rest of you might recall it), but most people slammed the show – more on that later. I enjoyed watching The Paradise because of her – and frankly, it’s the only reason that I first tuned in to the show. Loved her as Nelly Dean in the 2009 television adaptation of Wuthering Heights, which I loved as a novel anyway. Thought she was brilliant in Oliver Twist because she really made me hate her character in that one. Really loved her in Rose and Maloney all those years ago when it was broadcast on ABC TV. Liked her in Doctor Who as Ms. Foster in the ‘Partners in Crime’ episode. Think she’s massively brilliant in Happy Valley, and because of this show, I discovered Last Tango in Halifax and think she’s f*$king fantastic in that one.
Two of those shows were written by a writer who I think is at the top of the scriptwriting world – Sally Wainwright. However, before I delve into that discussion, let me go back to the issue of Heart and Soul/All The Small Things.
It was a fantastic show, and I don’t care what anyone else said about it, it really was good. The basic premise was centred around Esther Caddick, a mother whose choirmaster husband trades her in for a younger, fancier model. The new vicar to the village befriends her, however, he has a couple of secrets of his own; the more pertinent ones being firstly that he falls for Esther, and secondly that the woman Esther’s husband has left her for is the vicar’s sister. It was filled with music, comedy, conflict, and heartfelt moments. It was a really sweet piece. The conclusion, well, I probably would have written it more as a definite idea, but then I think the creators and producers were expecting it to be picked up for a second series. It never was, and thus, the ending is a bit weak. Never the less, it’s still a series that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Back to Sally Wainwright.
Discovering that Sarah Lancashire was in a new drama due to appear on our telly screens, I decided to watch the show, even if it was cr@p . . . which of course it wouldn’t be because Sarah Lancashire was in it. Duh! Thus began my admiration of Sally Wainwright. And for the record, Happy Valley was gripping, brilliant, critically acclaimed, realistic, brilliant, gritty, enthralling, unnerving, brilliant (did I mention that already?). Needless to say, when I’d discovered that series two of Happy Valley was available for purchase, I bought that DVD set as fast as I possibly could . . . then binge watched it.
In the course of my investigations – because that’s what I do when I get a lil obsessed with something or someone, I find out everything that I can possibly learn about it/them – I found out that Sally had written Last Tango in Halifax, which had also been screened on ABC TV. It had been repeated in the afternoons possibly about a year ago, but I hadn’t got into in then. I don’t know what I actually thought about it . . . maybe it was the fact that the two main characters were elderly, and that didn’t appeal to me at the time, or maybe it was that the entire idea behind the show wasn’t my thing. I mean, let’s face it, I do like my crime shows over anything else, and Last Tango was definitely not a crime or thriller. So, after purchasing series two of Happy Valley, I bought the boxed set of series one to three of Last Tango and binge watched that one too.
It should have been a no-brainer that I’d watch it because Sarah Lancashire is a supporting actor in the series. I’m surprised that I didn’t watch it when it was first televised given that she was in it, and given how much I love watching her work. But, I didn’t watch it, and when I finally got my hands on the DVD set, I was kicking myself because she’s so f*$king brilliant as Caroline. Once I’d worked through my actor-crush on Sarah Lancashire, I focussed on the writing of the show. Sally bloody Wainwright. What a f*$king scriptwriting genius!
Sally Wainwright. Not an overnight sensation as many people might think. Nope, this woman has paid her dues writing for soaps (Coronation Street) and she’s had many an idea or script turned down by the big TV channels in the UK – both Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley were turned down by ITV and BBC before eventually being picked up. And I bet those bloody TV executives are glad that they got around to saying yes to Sally, because those shows have gone through the roof, ratings-wise for both ITV and BBC. Millions of people watched the shows each week that they were broadcast. Millions.
So why do I like Sally’s writing so much? Good question, kids, good question. One reason (which is actually the third reason I like her work) is because the stories that she constructs are . . . real. Now, when I write ‘real’, I don’t mean that I’m deluded enough to believe that her characters actually exist, I mean that she tells the stories of real people, and she does it in a way that reflects the reality of life. There’s no sugar-coated version of life. There’s no pretending as if everyone is living comfortably and happily. There’s no dodging the issues that confront her characters. It’s real, and it’s gritty. Even her happy endings leave you wondering if it is a genuinely happy ending, or are her characters simply waiting for the other shoe to drop in much the same way that we often do?
The second reason fuelling my admiration of Sally Wainwright’s writing is her presentation of female characters. She’s been labelled a feminist writer, and on the odd occasion, critics have found it necessary to suggest that Wainwright presents men as weak and ineffectual. I don’t believe that to be true. I think it’s a by-product of the fact that her women are so strong (check out Wainwright’s show Scott & Bailey if you wanna see a show with strong women, or Happy Valley because Sgt. Catherine Cawood kicks serious a$$) – when a writer creates female characters who can stand on their own two feet, who have faced adversity and survived or conquered it, who get by day to day on their own, who are strong enough in their own right without having to depend on a man, it’s inevitable that critics will say their male characters are devoid of strength. In reality, the male characters are just as realistic, just as strong in their own way as the women. But that’s another blog post . . .
The primary reason I get Sally Wainwright as a writer is that she is incredibly astute at writing dialogue. I read an interview, can’t vouch for how truthful it was, where she’s quoted as saying that she’s been writing dialogue since she was about eight or ten years old. As a kid, she apparently had a thing about listening to the nuances of people speaking. This all led to Wainwright having to spend her time working on how to write the story so that quality of her story construction was as good as her dialogue. I get it. I’m a fan of dialogue writing also. I get it because when I create stories, I think in dialogue. And that was all due to my Public Speaking/Speech teacher, who showed me the intricacies of speech writing.
I love dialogue. I love listening to it. I love writing it. I love reading it. And yes, I do read dialogue in the voice or accent of who I perceive the character to be. Side note: yep, I read your Social Media posts in the voice or accent that I think you have, and if I’ve met you, I do read it in your voice. Unless you’re from New Zealand. I don’t do a New Zealand accent very well at all. No idea why, just can’t get my gob around it. Just sayin’.
Here’s the part where I urge you to check out some of Sally Wainwright’s work. I’ve mentioned my favourites a few times: Happy Valley series 1 and 2, Last Tango in Halifax series 1 to 3. Google her and you’ll get an extensive list of what she’s written, including an upcoming movie about the Brontë siblings. Yep, when I grow up, I wanna write like Sally Wainwright. And while you’re at it, check out actress Sarah Lancashire in action.