The Hour review and News

“A British version of Mad Men” claimed numerous critics who had clearly never even watched new BBC drama The Hour, because if they had they would have realised that there is so much more to it than just smoke, cigarettes and wiggle dresses.

The series takes place in 1956 in the newsrooms of the BBC’s Lime Grove Studios. The protagonist, Freddie Lyons, is an ambitious young journalist who is bored of the BBC’s softly-softly approach to the news until he and his good friend (and former lover) Bel begin working on a new news programme called The Hour. The series follows the show as the Suez Crisis unfolds, and more secretively a series of apparently unconnected murders and suicides which Freddie stumbles upon and sets out to solve. They soon unknowingly enter a dangerous world of government conspiracies, soviet agents and assassins, where knowledge is a danger thing.

The series was written by Abi Morgan and features a brilliant mix of characters and an unlikely hero. Throughout the show there is an underlying feeling of unease as Freddie is followed by black cars and men in dark suits and macs. The tension between journalists at the BBC and members of the House of Lords is perfectly played out, as is another sort of underlying tension, this time romantic between Bel and Freddie.

The cast is first class with every character played to a tee. Dominic West plays Hector, the face of The Hour, and Bel’s secret affair. He’s at the top of his game in the world of news, but it is only when he begins presenting The Hour that he learns just what journalism is all about and the impact it has on the public. Romola Garai plays Bel, a headstrong, determined journalist who becomes The Hour’s producer, based on real women working at the BBC during the period, Bel’s character originally comes across as a bit safe in terms of her approach to news as she sticks to the strict rules and regulations of BBC reporting, but as the series goes on she becomes a much stronger character and eventually reports what she and The Hour team believe the public should be informed of. Freddie Lyons is played by the fabulous Ben Whishaw, whose character jumps straight out at you from the very beginning. He is ambitious, fearless and determined to say the least as he embarks on a dangerous journey to discover the truth, and reveals it all live on air to the nation resulting in the show being taken off air. In addition to all of this he is also one of the most awkward characters in the show, lacking social grace and telling it very much as it is, brutally and honestly. He also makes his feelings about people very clear, much to Hector’s annoyance.

There is an appearance from Oona Chaplin as Hector’s perfect wife who captures the ideology of the 1950s perfectly, in terms of society but more so in terms of women’s roles. Needless to say her character strongly contrasts with that of Bel’s. There is also a fantastic performance from Burn Gorman as suspicious BBC translator Thomas Kish.

The look of The Hour is perfectly captured so much so it almost looks like it was made in 1956. The fashions, the make-up and the hairstyles appear to have come straight out of the decade right down to the décor of all the sets. The 1950s setting also adds to the plot and contributes to the suspense as Freddie has to really dig deep and investigate to get to the bottom of the murders as apposed to simply doing a bit of clever Googling. There is a slight political tone to the series but thankfully it doesn’t overpower it and adds to the plot quite nicely.

Overall I think The Hour has been a fantastic series with a very original plot. It is nothing like Mad Men at all; in fact it’s not really like anything I’ve seen come out of the BBC in a long time to – although it has to be said that it was a bit of a slow starter. Nevertheless despite lower viewing figures towards the end of the series it has already been announced that there is to be a second series which will take place nine months after the previous episode. The plot of the second series has not been confirmed but writer Abi Morgan has expressed an interest in the Launch of Sputnik, the birth of the Anti-Nuclear Movement and the radical tensions that took place near Notting Hill in 1958. Roll on series two.

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