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Comparisons with "Madmen" are inevitable but they also run the risk of distracting the viewer from properly appreciating "The Hour" in its own right. For all the obvious similarities between the two shows with their period-piece settings and respective portrayals of entrenched misogyny, this BBC/Kudos production marches resolutely to the beat of its own drum. "The Hour" is gritty and gray. It's temperature is cold. One of its main themes is the examination of conflict in a variety of forms; the deep internal conflict between ardent idealism and soul-numbing compromise or between personal integrity and ruthless ambition; and the dogged pursuit of truth in the face of suppression and censorship. Other classic struggles between opposing dynamics are also explored. These include individualism and conservatism, inspiration and convention, impoverishment and privilege, courage and fear, rational caution and paranoia, democracy and tyranny etc - all of which are set amid the historic backdrop of two salient international military conflicts. The landscape is panoramic and the brush-strokes reach far and wide but the painting remains clearly defined. All the elements are tautly packed into a 360 minute thought-provoking thriller. If comparisons must be drawn, then "Goodnight and Good Luck" might prove to be a helpful suggestion. With its subtle script, insightful direction, solid casting and a stunning performance from Ben Whishaw, "The Hour" is one of the BBC's finest. Congratulations to all involved with this production. Thoroughly recommended.
Review of Series One:
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.
The Hour is an intriguing new drama, created and written by Abi Morgan,
that spans several genres and weaves them together cleverly and
effectively. There is espionage, murder and suspense on the one hand;
romance on another hand; comedy on yet another hand; and political
drama on the final hand. The central emphasis is on the characters,
however, of Bel Rowley (producer of The Hour), Hector Madden (its
presenter), and one of the best characters of recent years, the funny
and confident Freddie Lyon, one of the show's journalists.
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.
I just watched the first episode of the Hour on BBC. It was better than
I thought it would be.
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 Hour is a great series made from an interesting angle: media in
post-War Britain. Since I have a media background, the story line of a
BBC news show that is made under influence of the government appeals to
me very much.
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 review may contain spoilers ***
I have to say that I have loved this show obsessively from the moment
Ben Whishaw's Freddie Lyon stepped on the screen. Performances like his
are why some television shows are superior to most movies being made
these days. I cannot recall the last movie that made me really
appreciate the hard work actors put forth in their art. It's inspiring.
Freddie is the kind of character I will remember years from now and
that is a testament to how new and exciting this show felt to me and a
testament to Ben Whishaw's talent. He portrays more passion with only
his eyes than even the best writers can convey with words. It only
happens with great characters on great shows. Take away all the Mad Men
comparisons ( I consider myself a Mad Men fan) and this show truly
stands on its own because it is much better. The spy-thriller element
was compelling because we got to go along with Freddie, but all in all
I couldn't help but feel let down with the story's conclusion. With a
second season I may change my mind.
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.
When receiving a lengthy series of quality, my usual pace is about two hours a night; with The Hour, I went for three, easily, and was hard put not to stay up past midnight and watch the entire series. This outstanding BBC thriller is many things--conspiracy and spy thriller, mystery, romance, period drama--and certainly much more. It has been exquisitely mounted, with lots of convincing period detail, and is acted by a unified ensemble, laying out numerous vivid characters in a plot that begins confusingly, but soon weaves a seductive plot-line that is not merely a whodunit but also reflects social concerns nations face today, about the power of governments and the behind-the-scenes manipulation of events. Its often funny, brilliantly paced, and is intelligent entertainment
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unlike many, I was not aware of "The Hour" being taunted as a "Mad Men"
like series. So I did not look for similarities or make any judgement
in that line of assessment. Good for me. It is set in the early fifties
and already it grabs you attention with the fact that a BBC news
program producer is a woman, Bel Rowley, played by Romola Garai.
Indeed, the story revolves around the characters connected directly or
indirectly with the BBC. We have a back-door pass sort of speak. I
found it interesting that government influence over the broadcasting
enterprise was so openly portrayed. The team working on the daily
hourly news program are individuals rich with character, all
brilliantly exploited to captivate us and keep us interested in the
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 didn't think The Hour was perfect, but overall for me it was very good and intriguing. The Hour does have a slightly slow start, but the pace soon picks up just in time for the tense finale, and I personally loved how ambiguous the ending was. I do also agree that some of the dialogue is rather anachronistic, however in the final episode especially it has several intense and intelligent moments. For any problems The Hour has, it does have potential to grow and there are many things to redeem it. The story is intriguing and full of twists and turns that are brought in and resolved nicely without the drama feeling rushed. The production values are wonderful, right down from the setting, to the photography, to the lighting to the fashions. The music is memorable and not over-bearing or generic like some programmes this year. The characters are interesting with like the series potential to grow. The acting is very good too, especially from Ben Whishaw and Romola Garai, but Julian Rhind-Tutt, Juliet Stevenson, Tim Piggott-Smith and especially Anna Chancellor also make a positive impression. Overall, while imperfect and leaves room for growth, I thought The Hours was very good on the whole. 9/10 Bethany Cox
Three times great may stand for the main cast of characters in this wonderful mini series by the BBC about the BBC, well done and professional as it is the house style. It brings you back to the old days of television in the mid-fifties by inviting us the watch the birth of a fictional weekly news magazine and the ups and downs of three journalists. One is a dynamic producer, trying hard to prove to herself and all others that she is worth the job, another a brilliant but difficult to work with intellectual lower class journalist, and finally a charming but eager to please and womanizing moderator. These three are not only connected through their work but simultaneously by friendship, love and hate. Together they get themselves into deep trouble and are bound to rely on each other when things get worse. The story draws us into a forgotten world of secrets, espionage and crisis, all through the eyes of the fifties! Both seasons are excellently done, rich of details and exciting facts.
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