In a nutshell: News, spies and institutional teacups

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

I know I’m supposed to love Mad Men, but I couldn’t be bothered. I watched The Wire; what more do you want? I’m not committing to yet another interminably long American import just so I can nod sagely when the Guardian’s TV critics are drooling over it.

And anyway… who needs Mad Men when we’ve got The Hour?

Set on a news programme in 1956, back when current affairs on TV was still finding its feet, The Hour is a gripping thriller in which ambitious young working-class journalist Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw, as twitchy, gawky and ‘on the spectrum’ as ever) tries to unravel a dangerous tangle of murder, political intrigue and national secrets.

Freddie is aided by his best friend and producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) and, reluctantly, by suave presenter Hector Madden (a great performance by a Brylcreemed Dominic West at his Old Etonian best), along with a host of other supporting characters. The characters are what really make The Hour stand out: the writers aren’t afraid to let them build slowly over several episodes, or to make them really quite unlikeable at first. It’s a rare drama these days that doesn’t throw everything there is to know about a character at the viewer in the first episode, and The Hour is all the better for the slow-burn approach.

The casting is universally perfect – look out for an almost unrecognisable Julian Rhind-Tutt playing against type – and so is the period detail. Yes, some of the clothes are lovely and the use of liquid eyeliner is excellent, but there’s also an austere, post-war dinginess to it. Rock and roll has barely arrived, and it’s deemed thankfully acceptable for an exhausted Bel to have dark circles under her eyes.

Where Mad Men is all glamorous offices and shiny new consumer goods in America’s land of plenty, The Hour is distinctly British. People may well wear beautiful dresses to dinner at extravagant country house weekends, but they also have wrinkled stockings and knitted tank-tops and sit in a grubby-looking canteen drinking tea from institutional cups. Set against a backdrop of the Suez Crisis, The Hour is sandwiched in history somewhere between rationing and the Profumo affair, and it’s got that authentic atmosphere of secrecy, paranoia and a rigid social hierarchy.

Is there anything bad about The Hour? Anything? Well… maybe the will-they-won’t-they thing between Bel and Freddie grates a bit, and the production team’s secretary is basically doing an impression of Martine McCutcheon in Love Actually. Other than that, its only fault is that there’s a mere three episodes left to go. Still – they say you should always leave your audience wanting more, and The Hour can only possibly do that.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

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Comments
  1. curlyshirley says:

    Indeed, another winner for the BBC after the impeccable Crimson Petal and the White.

    Excellent review Jo, totally love this and, as if I wasn’t desperately trying to build a time machine already, I wish I could be working in a news room like this right now.

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