The Hour (2011–2012)
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The acting is uniformly excellent; Romola Garai ('Atonement'; 'The Crimson Petal and the White') and Ben Whishaw ('Perfume'; 'Criminal Justice I') especially shine as Bel and Freddie. There are other superb performances from the seedy Julian Rhind-Tutt ('Green Wing') and the suave Dominic West ('The Wire'), along with my personal favourite Anna Chancellor ('Four Weddings and a Funeral') as Lix, an acid-tongued feminist in the newsroom.
The story does start off a little slowly, but prepare for a roller-coaster ride later on, particularly in the extremely tense final episode, where the drama is perfectly pitched. The loose ends are nicely tied up, and the conclusion is suitably ambiguous, ready for the second series which has been commissioned.
The only quibble is the sometimes anachronistic dialogue; but one tends not to notice this as everything else is so good.
So, overall this is an intriguing, intelligent drama with plenty of strands, twists and turns, and fantastic acting all round. I await series two eagerly.
What I especially like about The Hour are the characters. None of them are either good or bad and their behavior and views seem very realistic. There's no crude division between good or bad which gives the overall story line a layered kind of dynamics: the overall story line as well as the personal drama interested me from the beginning to the end. How I 'grew into' the characters while watching the series reminded me of The Wire. Acting is well done by the way, which pushes the series to a very high level.
This is the first series I saw after seeing the American-made Homeland and it is such a relief to me that the British do not seem to fall for the blunt simplifications of good and bad as portrayed in American drama.
This decent BBC drama miniseries depicts the lives and loves of three journalists working for the corporation during the 1950s. The series gets off to a dodgy start with the first couple of episodes, mainly because the main characters are all so damn cold. It then gets a lot better as we get to know those involved, and by the end it's become a real blast.
Romola Garai's Bel is really the centrepiece of the whole production, the producer who attempts to hold it all together while making some huge mistakes along the way. Ben Whishaw's Freddie is a bit of an oddball at first, but his deepening involvement with the series' conspiracy undertones makes him a character to watch and, come the finale, he's the most interesting by far. Dominic West is faultless, as he has been in everything I've seen him in.
The attention to detail is impeccable, and I particularly enjoyed the way that world-shaping events have a key influence on the plotting. There's romance, drama, murder and humour in spades here, along with strong performances from both veterans (Anna Chancellor, Juliet Stevenson, Tim Pigott-Smith) and relative newcomers (Burn Gorman and Julian Rhind-Tutt are both particularly good).
There are occasional faults – the unravelling of the conspiracy storyline is over-complicated and muddled – but these can be easily forgiven. Altogether a compelling piece of literate TV drama, and I'm overjoyed to hear a second series has been commissioned.
Review of Series Two:
Series two of THE HOUR turns out to be an improvement on the first series, which was great to begin with: the performances are more natural, the storyline more tightly focused, and the sense of danger and impending deadlines far more pronounced.
The series boasts impeccable production designs, intriguingly interwoven plotting and some excellent performances. In this series, Hector is really put through the wringer, allowing the audience some more of Dominic West's finely mannered acting; Oona Chaplin, playing Hector's wife, also comes into her own as a fully developed, sympathetic character for the first time.
There are casualties: Romola Garai is utilised less well here, although Ben Whishaw is as charming as ever. The problem is that the focus is away from Garai, unlike in the first series, and she's given little to do. Everyone else seems to have deeper, stronger character stuff, whereas her screen time is limited to some corny romance that never goes anywhere.
There are missteps, too, not least Abi Morgan's attempt to give ALL of the main characters some emotional storyline, even the nerdy bespectacled comic relief guy. There's just not room for it, and bringing in a typically hissy Peter Capaldi doesn't work either; his sub-plot with Anna Chancellor just left me cold, getting in the way of the REAL story.
Still, these flaws aren't enough to ruin the enjoyment of this series, which just seems to get better and better with each episode. As with series one, it culminates in a remarkably tense and gripping final episode that leaves me hoping for third outing.
I will say I was a bit disappointed with the character of Bel Rowley. Romola Garai is incredibly powerful in her subtlety, and coupled with her great looks she has everything it takes to be a knockout, memorable and distinctly female voice on television. Her affair with Hector would have been more tolerable and believable if this weren't a miniseries. To show the beginning and end (if it is the end) of an affair in six episodes is a bit much to take on if it's not poignant and precise, which I didn't think it was. The sixth episode really didn't feel all that satisfying because I just kept seeing the potential for this show to be really brilliant. That's where the script needs a little work.
I really think that with a second season we will see an evolution of the characters Bel and Freddie and it will hopefully be moving the way a good story should be. Their relationship is honest and natural, something picked right out of life, and I do believe in it, so I cannot wait to see what Abi Morgan will do with their story. She does an amazing job of giving these two characters the perfect witty banter to keep it entertaining all while giving the audience touching flashes of what it is to know someone inside and out and what it means to be willing to do anything for that person, even if you never tell them that. Ben and Romola have an underlying chemistry that I think many actors on television lack. To wrap a greater story arc around a relationship that feels so real is the challenge for Abi Morgan. Some writers get great characters but don't have the right story to place them in. But if the next season only improves upon these first six episodes (oh how I wished it went on for ten!), I cannot wait until the premiere.
They convey work ethics of news people, in particular, that of Freddie Lyon, played superbly by Ben Whishaw. Every movie I've seen with journalists as principal roles, always has a more exciting pull. Intrigues intertwine early and the thriller mode kicks in. The storyline or synopsis you may have read will not come close to indicating all the twists and turns this miniseries will go through. There is sex and romance just like in real life of course; no good thriller should be without. As I have come to expect in all movies, period pieces or not, that involve journalists (print, radio or TV), "The Hour" will touch on historical facts and have you ponder a bit, or much more, on what government and powerful people try to get away with. This work by the talented cast certainly shows the sacrifices individuals make as a result of their decisions, good or bad. Who is a spy for the good guys who is for the bad guys, and what's the difference? I highly recommend it for mature audiences, mature in the full sense of the word; if you have the attention span of a video gamer, it will be too much for you to grasp.
I had heard it was supposed to be a lot like Mad Men, or at least very similar. There are a lot of similarities, and in the first episode I think they overdid it at times the fact that it is 1950 where gender roles are quite specific. Apart from that it is not that much like Mad Men at all. This is not so much a show where men are the main characters and it is their work life and how they have to use their strong character to get ahead in a difficult business.
In the Hour it seems to be more about a journalist's life at the time, no matter if you are a man or a woman. Although gender roles will play a part, it is not necessarily the core of the show like in Mad Men. It is not as glamours either.
What I really like about the Hour that there is also a mystery part to it, almost like a police show. In the beginning of the pilot we are introduced to a murder. The police are calling it a robbery, but one of the journalists finds out there are more to the story. The episode then switches between finding out the truth, at the same time as we learn about the life of journalists in the BBC, and how men and women work together to make a new, current affairs show that covers important moments in history. I'm sure historic moments will be highlighted in the show as well.
So a mixture between Mad Men and a police mystery (that doesn't necessarily get solved in every episode).
So so far, very good.
The first season is built around the Suez Crisis and the Burgess-Maclean spy scandal, but the political backdrop is pretty much self-explanatory; the second season reverts to more familiar hardboiled themes—bent cops, shady nightclubs, showgirls in jeopardy and a porno racket (innocuous b&w photos in this case)—before getting back to the big stuff, high-level corruption and the nuclear threat. A "behind the scenes" clip on the second DVD focuses on the obsessively detailed production design, which, as with "Mad Men," is a big part of the show's appeal.
The politics of it does not convince, and nor does its depiction of television in this era, which was still hidebound by the conventions and technical limitations of the time, in particular the fourteen day rule which precluded the coverage of political questions which were going to be debated in Parliament within a fortnight. This was mentioned by the characters but then seemingly disregarded. Of course, the point was that they were smashing through the barriers, but it nonetheless fails to convince. It was indeed the Suez crisis that brought about the effective demise of the 14 day rule, but as a result of the pioneering efforts of Granada and ITV (only brought into being one year previously) not the BBC.
More generally the whole ambiance of The Hour (both the show itself and the show within the show) is that of a later era, the mid-sixties perhaps rather than the mid-fifties. When I first saw the trailers for the show I guessed from the look of thing,the graphics, the central characters, etc that it was circa 1963 and that the show within the show was something akin to That Was The Week That Was. Television current affairs was simply not that spontaneous,rebellious or innovative in 1956, and the show fails to convey the sheer stodginess of life at that time in Britain.
There are quite a few seeming anachronisms, particularly in speech and manners, though admittedly one can never being completely sure of that, and some things jar horribly. It is inconceivable that a presenter would be brought on impromptu to do an interview in shirt sleeves. Both Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw look wrong for the period, and seem vaguely as if they have been time-warped back from sometime in the 1960s. Again this may be deliberate on the part of the programme-makers, to demonstrate that they are trail-blazing, avante garde figures, but I doubt it.
Moreover,much of the plot was obscure and failed to make any sense, and some scenes were plain ludicrous such as the fight scene in episode 3 between Whishaw (Lyon) and the MI6 chappie within the hallowed precincts of the Beeb itself. (Incidentally MI6 deal with espionage overseas not counter-espionage within the UK which is the remit of MI5). Characters are imbued with astonishing powers of prescience and political erudition way beyond what they would have possessed in real life (a common failing in historical dramas). Lyon has already managed to identify John F Kennedy as a major figure, and the characters greet Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal as a seminal event long before its real significance was apparent (I fancy that Suez was very much a slow burner as a political issue). This is probably designed to demonstrate the character's insight but it merely reveals the way in which the drama has been written with the benefit of hindsight and the script's failure to capture the real essence of the way people thought and felt during the period in question.
The oft-made comparisons with Mad Men merely serve to underline the superiority of that series in almost every respect. All in all the hour is a bit of a waste of time - 360 minutes of it to be precise.
Overtures to operas usually introduce themes that will appear in the opera that follows once the curtain opens and that is how THE HOUR comes across. This is a time piece set in the 1950s when Cold War-era England was awash in the news of the Suez crisis, one of Britain's sharpest intimations of loss, with a more intimate look at sex, ambition and espionage in the workplace along with the world wide speculation of JFK as a vice presidential candidate in the US. It's a time of unsettling change, except at the BBC, where even driven reporters are assigned to do feel-good newsreels about débutante balls and royal visits. The series opener, written by Bafta Award-winning Abi Morgan, takes us behind the scenes of the launch of a topical news program in London 1956, and introduces a highly competitive, sharp-witted and passionate love triangle at the heart of the series through the lives of enigmatic producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) and her rivals, journalist Freddie Lyon (Ben Wishaw) and anchorman Hector Madden (Dominic West): we will begin to see the decade on the threshold of change - from the ruthless sexual politics behind the polite social façade of the Fifties to the revelations that redefined the world for a new generation. Aside from the behind the scenes views and devious workings of the BBC we also see the beginning of a crime element in which the victim is touted as being part of a robbery while the ever-suspicious and career climbing Freddie sees it as a murder to be investigated. There are 1950s reminders of Debutante Balls, the universal cigarette smoking habits, the 'gentlemen only clubs' where women are not allowed (secondary citizens, you know!), and all the clothes and hats that reek of the 50s.
The cast is rich in fine British actors (Juliet Stevenson and Tim Pigott-Smith appear briefly in roles that will likely be expanded, Anna Chancellor is the acid tongued foreign correspondent, Burn Gorman is the suspicious, hatted man, etc), but if were only Ben Wishaw and Romola Garai and Domenic West every week the show would sail. There is a lot of style and sophistication and just the right amount of British intrigue and humor that almost sure that this series will fly.
What I got was someone's a 21st Century wish what they would have liked the 50's to have been. Chauvinism-lite that let's our talented and plucky girl get everything she wants accept an affair. Racism that is challenged with no apparent consequences, just do the story and problem solved. People lighting up in studio like the 50's while others go outside to have a smoke like modern second-hand pariahs.
I waited patiently for this to take off, for the conspiracy to make sense. Figuring there is some missing clue that will bring this all together. Then the climax into some hazy non-revelation.
They tried so hard to make the government the villain even when the characters or their motives make no sense. She's being targeted for recruitment by the Soviets and then suddenly she's British intelligence who kill her because she can't keep secrets. What made her so recruit- able in the first. Meanwhile the completely invisible soviet spies finally appear as the tortured intellectual souls that the left (and I assume the creators of this show) know them to be. Which would explain the revisionist of history casts Britain as the violator of international law and not Nasser whose nationalization of the canal is just delivering the needed comeuppance to the arrogant colonial superpower.
I assume this is the first and last season.
But what is this 'lavish' rubbish set in and around a TV studio in 1956? For starters, nothing much happens of interest, except for the cast walking round as if they're all terribly important actors in terribly important roles speaking in terribly important accents in a terribly important TV serial.
When all is said and done, I was bored by it. There was a murder and a suicide in episode one and even that couldn't raise the programme from its boredom level.
Being a follower of 1950s fashions, I was watching out for what the ladies and gentleman were wearing, but they couldn't even get that right. The leading actress frequently wore skirts and dresses way shorter than the 1956 style.
Ladies in 1956 never wore their skirts above the knee. It was a rule, calf length - especially secretaries, admin and business ladies.
Dearie me, I am so bored with this programme.
This is less obvious with "The Hour", which is set up as a mystery-thriller complete in six episodes rather than a multi-series workplace drama. However, the mystery-thriller plot turns out to be a tawdry, sadly vestigial side-show. The writer could scarcely be bothered to make it, and the associated mayhem, realistic and plausible. What is left is an office romance drama which is scarcely more realistic. In a nutshell, the dialogue toys with serious issues that turn out to be just a patina on a melodrama.
These defects are the more glaring because the big screen has recently given us a superb example of a "period" thriller in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." But that of course is based on a novel that was, when it was written, a contemporary drama.
One is left, then, with the period setting. Here too, one's efforts to suspend disbelief are constantly challenged. Romola Garai appears in a succession of costumes that seem more calculated to showcase her figure than to approximate mid-1950s workplace attire. And her character would not have asked a question (episode 1) about "Prime Minister Eden" but about "the Prime Minister", or "Sir Anthony".
More damagingly, the setting is inappropriately specific. "Mad Men" is set in an advertising agency, one of many that existed in that time and place. It is patched into historical events - events that actually happened. "The Hour" is a portrayal of an event - a BBC TV programme - that did not happen. It is a weakly realized fantasy.
Why 6 stars, then? Mainly because of the cast. Juliet Stevenson shines in any company; Garai is reliably excellent; but I particularly enjoyed Oona Chaplin's performance as an insecure wife. Either her part was better written than the rest, or she made it seem so.
The men are OK, and Anton Lesser is something more.
Right now British TV is trying to play catch-up with the US and this is a blatant attempt to rip off the period glamour of "Mad Men". Sadly, whilst the 1950s in Britain is interesting from a news perspective - Suez, Hungary and television - it's also a dull, shabby, exhausted and distinctly not glamorous period. Which doesn't stop the BBC from making it into one, no matter how incongruous. What really lets it down though is the writing, which is so trendy, metropolitan, and left-wing that it bears no real relation to the period whatsoever. Example: "Mad Men" dealt with changes in racial attitudes with subtlety, with black-face and black servants slowly giving way to Civil Rights; "The Hour" simply has the main character walk through streets packed with (only) black people whilst calypso music plays loudly and he quotes Martin Luther King (in 1956!). The story follows two journalists, one an insufferably chippy 'working class' smart-arse who makes you want to beat his head in with an Alan Sillitoe novel, the other a woman in a man's world who actually spends most of the series in a tepid love triangle and modelling (inappropriate for the period) clothes. The other characters are a thinly sketched parody of a conservative boor and a ferocious, alcoholic female war correspondent (the only one whose character rang true). As a period piece it fails because the leads (anachronistically) hold exactly the same 'correct' political beliefs as the 21st century BBC. As a drama it fails because it mostly consists of the leads telling each other how wonderful they are. In addition, because straight drama is apparently too dull, there's a poorly shoehorned in murder-conspiracy that is poorly plotted and somewhat inevitably implicates "the authorities". Altogether, glossy rubbish.
I enjoy British TV and film, as it seems to rely less on slapstick, sex, toilet humour and car chases. This is an intelligent series that made me want to refresh my memory on the history of the era, with Suez, the Hungarian Uprising and British spy scandals.
I thought the entire cast did a great job, with special nods for: * Ben Whishaw's nervous intellectual * Romola Garai's professional woman trying to walk the line between career and personal life * Anton Lesser's subtly menacing manager * Dominic West's upper class, prep school type working to be accepted as a part of the mostly working class team
I thought the show demonstrated a skillful blending of personal interest with political events. And the tone and scene was very well set, with the BBC's offices slightly darkened atmosphere and wonderful period feel.
Applause, and please give us more.
It's about a ground-breaking BBC news show in 1956, in which the daring, progressive news team dares to face down the government and its undercover minions! Doesn't this sound like a thousand other BBC plots: government=bad, journalists=good! Of course, the bad government is carrying on a bad war, and covering it up with evil spies! I wonder if we're supposed to draw any comparisons with more recent history. Hmm!
Some people compare this with MAD MEN, seemingly for the sole reason that it's set in the 1950s. For me, it's like a bad British remake of BROADCAST NEWS with a spy plot grafted on. By the last episode, it's easy to forget all the details of the setup, although I must say the writer did a decent job of explaining the whole plot (something the Beeb often forgets to do). The main character is an annoying little git who looks like Frank Sinatra's famous mug shot photo. The rest of the cast is more tolerable, including a tightly-wound Anton Lesser, the versatile Julian Rhind-Tutt in a semi-tough guy role (hard to take seriously with those dorky 50s glasses), and Burn Gorman, sinister as usual with his mouth like a badly-healed scar.
Having worked in broadcasting for many years, I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes aspect of the plot. The spy subplot needed LOTS of tightening, but even so the series was worth a watch.
I've never seen Mad Men so I can't relate to the comparisons and I have yet to see Series 2. I watched this on DVD (remember those?) in two 150 minute chunks and both parts held interest from start to finish. Outstanding.
I was born and raised in the U.K. I was 16 years old in 1956; the year of Suez and the Hungarian uprising. I remember them well. Those events as depicted in the series relate well to the memories I have of those times. Also, in contrast to some anonymous comments, the day to day personal issues and interactions are compatible with my own memories of those times; the only possible exception being the amount of alcohol consumed by both sexes at the BBC.
The main point of the series for me however is that it depicts how the issues of today would have been exposed had they occurred in those days; but not today. Today such exposures are either not current or are smothered under the guise of the public good and safety. It is not surprising that the series was not continued. Indeed it is surprising that it was shown at all, by the BBC.