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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Hour: Series 1

The Hour, a six-episode production of BBC Two which aired on BBC America last August, is essentially Broadcast News set in 1950s Great Britain.

Usually I try to avoid such descriptions, as they can be over-used and uninformative, but really, the overlap between the two is so strong that it merits mention. If you've seen the film, which I hope you have, you'll probably be able to figure out the similar construction from the photo above. Romola Garai plays Bel Rowley, the hard-charging female producer of a brand-new weekly news program (in other words, Holly Hunter). Dominic West is the anchorman, Hector Madden, a good-looking man with superb connections who struggles to be taken seriously by his more intellectual colleagues. (There's your William Hurt.) Ben Whishaw as Freddie Lyon is a wire-thin idealist intellectual whose lack of grace and social skills keeps him from maximizing his potential. (Albert Brooks, to finish off the comparison.)

The setting is 1956, in the midst of the Suez crisis. The government, led by Prime Minister Anthony Eden, is coming increasingly under question for their handling of the invasion of Egypt, and the news team at The Hour struggle to cover the story without running afoul of government censors, personified here by Sir Eden's lackey Angus McCain.

It's all very, and appealingly, British, with issues like honor, integrity, class, and patriotism coming to the fore. Adding to the intrigue is Freddie's chance discovery of a potential MI6 conspiracy involving skullduggery in Egypt and murder at home.

It's a testament to the strength of the program, and the drama of the newsroom, that all this spy stuff is almost distracting. It's a neat whodunit, but it's never entirely clear what the show wants to get from it. At the last minute, it becomes a more interesting question of a potential mole at the BBC, but for too long the connection between the Suez and the dead spy remains opaque to the viewer.

The best aspect of the series is the chemistry between Whishaw and Garai. The two have such an easy, comfortable repartee that you would swear they really were best friends. Their romantic past is alluded to obliquely, but they are just friends at the moment, though it's clear that Freddie does not approve of Bel's affair with Hector.

If I have any complaint about the series, it is that it too cramped in the six-episode format. I would have gladly watched these events transpire over 13 episodes. Very interested to see where The Hour goes in its next installment.

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