tue 12/11/2019

The Hour, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Hour, BBC Two

The Hour, BBC Two

Murder, romance and politics in new BBC show about a new BBC show

Dominic West as Hector Madden, presenter of new current affairs show The Hour

Although it's a period drama set in the dim and shadowy London of 1956, The Hour can’t help reminding us that the more things change, the more inclined they feel to do a brisk U-turn and fly back to hit us in the teeth. I even wondered whether the BBC had felt like pulling this first episode from the schedules, on account of the scene where chippy young BBC news journalist Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) slipped a bribe to a police officer to gain access to the corpse of a murder victim. In this particular week, it was uncannily close to the bone.

Lyon himself would surely have relished being able to get his teeth into a story like the cartwheeling News Corp saga. As the story opened, we found him chafing at the narrow horizons and suffocating air of deference that surrounded his job as a reporter in the BBC's newsreel films department, where debutantes' coming-out parties and what the ladies were wearing at Ascot were deemed more urgently newsworthy than Eastern Bloc political crises or the new phenomenon of Commonwealth immigration to Britain. The latter was flagged up with paint-by-numbers literal-mindedness by a couple of black people walking down the street while calypso music played on the soundtrack.

Meanwhile, Freddie (pictured below) was declaring that "newsreels are dead", and that "we've bored the public for too long". Happily, help was at hand in the shape of a new current affairs programme, "The Hour", which was being prepared in strictest secrecy by the Beeb's Head of News Clarence Fendley (a donnish Anton Lesser). It was to be produced by the glamorous Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), one of Lyon's colleagues in the impressively decrepit crypt where they knocked newsreels together.

Whishaw_TRIMAnd for a presenter... well, thrusting, impatient Freddie thought he was the perfect man for the job. He'd also prepared his own mission statement for the new show, which he delivered to the Corporation's programming supremo like an ardent Apprentice contestant trying to convince Lord Sugar that he really had run a business selling pasta to the Italians.

But Freddie's rantings came to naught, since not only wasn't he the producer, but he wasn't going to be the presenter either. That honour had been reserved for suave, sleek Hector Madden (Dominic West), who was promptly dubbed "Gregory Peck" by Freddie. Within seconds of meeting Ms Rowley, he was trying to lure her out for drinks, and Freddie's own suppressed passion for her is obviously going to come under considerable strain as the story progresses (Romola Garai as Bel Rowley, pictured below).

Garai_TRIMIf potential love triangle plus launch of revolutionary new TV show wasn't enough, writer Abi Morgan had also thrown in a murder mystery to keep the pot bubbling. This involved the murder of a scientist in a murky Underground tunnel, and then a follow-up bumping off of Freddie's young debutante friend Ruth, who'd been burbling on to him about some sort of giant conspiracy. She was right, and she ended episode one dangling by the neck in an undignified manner in her hotel bathroom.

I found the thriller dimension a bit daft, not least the killer who hangs around under lamp posts in a trilby and raincoat as if he thinks he's remaking The 39 Steps. Comparisons have been made between The Hour and Mad Men, probably because you could quite easily picture Jon Hamm in the Dominic West role, but this has none of the careful pacing and almost subliminal evocation of period and milieu of the American series. But we know the Suez crisis is boiling up in the background, because we keep being fed overheard snatches of news about Nasser and Anthony Eden, and there are five more episodes to go. Keep 'em peeled.

Comments

I watched part one of The Hour with interest.Yes,it was a murky backdrop of the 50s and pretty accurate it was too.The 1950s were NOT my favourite decade,for various reasons. However I enjoyed this and Romola Garai is always worth watching for her varied acting ability.She has a deeper range than you think. Ben Whishaw made a good stab at the part-he is however a little too 21st Century for it,IMO. I will be watching subsequent episodes with interest. Thank you for this review.

I thought it was really poor. A lot money was clearly spent in recreating the era and then the illusion was totally destroyed by anachronistic speeches (e.g.>Are we done?nd abilities as storytellers that they feel the need to fall back on hoary old conspiracy/murder plotlines? I don't know who first likened this to Mad Men but that show grips its audience by first creating compelling and totally believable characters and then exploring the dynamics between them. 52 episodes and not a single murder. Mad Men this ain't. Collini Out

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

Advertising feature

★★★★★

A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway

 

Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.

 

★★★★★

This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman

 

Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.

 

Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.