[Images taken from Digital Spy, BBC on Youtube and ComicsBulletin.com].
I was really impressed by the first two episodes of this six-part series, which had been given the unfortunate label of the ‘British version of Mad Men’ to live up to. I don’t think that this is an entirely fair comparison, as The Hour can stand on its own merit as a drama about television (not advertising), conspiracy (not home life) and British politics (not American society). This is not Mad Men. Yes, there is an intense attention to detail on the part of the costume designers and props department, and there is also a heady atmosphere of sexual tension, but let’s not suggest this is a carbon copy of anything else. We are in London and it’s 1956. The Suez crisis is about to break and there’s a new weekly BBC television program to be made by Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) and Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), and presented by the dashing Hector Madden (Dominic West). Lyon pitches the show as ‘the hour you have to see’, which will ‘reveal fleeting moments of history’. In case you’ve missed it, here’s a summary so far:
We were thrust into several worlds; that of live television production, of privileged debutantes like powdered dolls, of violent men in wide-brimmed hats. Freddie Lyon is the quintessential Angry Young Man, but with a wicked sense of wit and a genuine talent for investigative journalism, and he is desperate to helm his own program. The appointment of Hector Madden is thereby seen as a snub, leading to plenty of retorts thrown between the two. Bel Rowley is the producer caught between them, admiring both talents but also trying to further her own career. She is told by a government advisor, Mr. McCain, that she has ‘such maternal instincts’, which naturally does not go down well for a woman who considers herself to be independent and powerful. Her wardrobe mirrors her aspirations, with strong injections of colour and sharp tailoring.
Rowley is placed in contrast alongside the unhappy deb, Ruth Elms, who is a friend of Freddie’s and becomes embroiled in a sinister situation that he is desperate to unravel (but the audience is always one step ahead). Lurking in the background of everything is Mr. Kish (Burn Gorman), a shady and murderous figure carrying a crossword puzzle…
What I loved: seeing the dynamics between the main characters.
What I hated: the grisly final scenes, which were quite distressingly realistic.
Quote of the episode: ‘You always leave a tiny corner where we can’t quite reach you’ (Bel Rowley, to Hector Madden, on men).
After Freddie’s antics leave Hector Madden using the wrong interview questions on a guest, things are particularly frosty between the pair. Freddie also antagonises Bel by belittling her with the nickname Moneypenny, even though she is his superior. She also has to remind him that she introduced him to culture and sophistication, teaching him to ‘knot a tie’ and ‘read Woolf and Wilde’ – this moulding of his character by a woman is surprising but believable as we see their complex friendship played out. We then see Bel looking after her own wild and careless mother, whose numerous boyfriends and mutton-dressed-as-lamb appearance do not impress her daughter. Bel is also aware of a growing affection for Hector, who she knows is married, and this is easily paving the way for future episodes as their slow-burning romance develops.
Another great example of ambitious females in the workplace is Lix (Anna Chancellor), who pushes the team of The Hour to cover her story on unrest in Egypt – this turns out to be a coup for the program as it’s the start of a serious political rift over the Suez Canal. When Hector secures an important interview with the high-profile Egyptian Hafiz, everyone is on tenterhooks as the guest declares that ‘The British Empire is over’. As someone who enjoys history I sadly know very little about the Suez situation (it’s not covered widely in academia or documentaries), but I didn’t feel lost or confused by it in this drama and I could follow the events as they unfolded.
Meanwhile our strange creature Mr. Kish has secured employment helping out Lix as an Egyptian translator, nicely tying in the events of the previous episode with this one. He blends well into the background at the BBC until Freddie finds an unsettling piece of film footage given to him by Lord Elms, Ruth’s father and puts it together with the code he has cracked…
What I loved: Lord Elms’ speech about democracy, which could still be relevant today.
What I hated: the lack of screen time devoted to the brilliant Julian Rhind-Tutt as Mr. McCain and Burn Gorman as Mr. Kish.
Quote of the episode: ‘I’m pathologically unable to see a woman in the rain without holding an umbrella over her’ (Hector Madden).