Posts Tagged ‘London’

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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In a nutshell: Buttock-clenching realism played for laughs

Popcorn rating: 5/5

The mockumentary format can be tough to get right. Fortunately Twenty Twelve is more akin to The Office’s gently-paced realism than Come Fly With Me’s funny voices and fat-suits.

Writer-director John Morton has form when it comes to documentary-style comedies, having previously penned the excellent People Like Us. People Like Us starred Chris Langham – and is consequently unlikely to appear on your screens again in the wake of his prison sentence for downloading child porn, betraying aggrieved Guardian readers in the same way that legions of Sun-buyers felt cheated by The People’s Paedophile, Gary Glitter. Lucky for us, then, that Twenty Twelve is such a brilliantly-observed little treat of a satire that it more than makes up for it.

Set in the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission, Twenty Twelve follows a team of public sector senior managers, who behave… well, like public sector senior managers. If you don’t think that would provide endless scope for absurd awkwardness, Kafkaesque dialogue and beautifully-timed farce, you’ve clearly never worked in the public sector. And now you don’t need to. Just watch Twenty Twelve instead. There’s no difference.

The meetings with blindly confident ‘Head of Brand’ Siobhan Sharpe (Jessica Hynes), in which everyone fiddles with their BlackBerry and accomplishes nothing, are devastatingly accurate vignettes of office life, as are the small failures that seem to conspire to ruin day after day for Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville). A temperamental swipe-card reader denies him entry to his own office. Some unearthed bones could mean abandoning the much-hyped ‘urban water hole’ showpiece of the Olympic Aquatic Centre, already behind schedule, if they prove to be Roman remains. ‘Let’s hope it just turns out be a murder or something,’ Ian says cheerfully on his way to meet the archaeologist.

Head of Sustainability Kay Hope (Amelia Bullmore) is a particular delight as she tries unsuccessfully to explain what sustainability actually means, in between desperately begging Stratford youth groups to find a post-Olympic use for the white elephant Tae Kwondo Centre. So is Head of Infrastructure Graham Hitchins (Karl Theobald), who with only a year to go, still hasn’t worked out how London’s packed transport network will handle the Olympic traffic. Perhaps that’s why Graham rarely seems to go home – or maybe it’s just because when asked where he lives, his only response is ‘It’s got its own bathroom’.

I have just two complaints about Twenty Twelve. One is that it’s so accurate that I sometimes get confused while watching and think I’m at work. The other is that it’s shoved away on BBC4 at 10pm. This is a sharp, well-made comedy that deserves better – 9 o’clock on BBC2 for the repeat, perhaps?

Reviewer: JoSheppard