Last Updated on June 7, 2023
I can’t believe I waited so long to watch BBC’s “The Hour.” The British period series came out in 2011, so I should have known about the 1950s-set Emmy winner sooner than I did.
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Even when I heard about it I stayed away. What a mistake.
What kept me from diving in to “The Hour” as soon as possible was twofold: set in a newsroom the late 1950s, season one is unfolds during the Suez crisis. My limited knowledge about the show made me think the news aspect of “The Hour” would be boring. Current affairs are at the center of the series, but the portrayal is engaging and edifying.
The second reason: “The Hour” stars Romola Garai. I love her acting, so that shouldn’t have been a reason, but she’s forever my matchmaking Emma. I was skeptical about watching her in a behind-the-scenes drama akin to “Mad Men.”
But how ridiculous of me on both accounts – a rapidly changing England on the brink of the Cold War makes a thrilling setting for “The Hour,” and Garai excels. She’s every bit as lovable here as she is in the Jane Austen adaptation.
Journalism (alongside a subplot of espionage), functions as the backdrop for the true heart of the period drama: stories about the lead characters.
Bel, a trailblazing producer (Romola Garai), Freddie, an idealistic journalist (Ben Whishaw, Mary Poppins Returns), and Hector, a complicated, dashing anchorman who got the job because of family connections (Dominic West, Colette), work together on The Hour, a BBC investigative news program.
The team wants to shake things up by telling the truth, which should be “something you don’t have to lie about.” But truth is in short order, and it will take integrity and doggedness to live up to the trio’s own standards.
While the news program itself is fictional, Garai’s character Bel is based on BBC broadcaster Grace Wyndham Goldie, one of the few senior women in an establishment dominated by men. Series writer Abi Morgan said that she chased down “history to find the story… The late 1950s is the moment when Britain breaks free from the old establishment… It’s a ticking clock. To me, that’s what The Hour symbolises.”
There are two seasons (though last year Morgan said she was up for writing a third series set in 1960s London); I’ve just finished the first. I’m dashing off these thoughts in between making dinner, as I don’t want you to wait any longer to start watching.
“The Hour” is filled with intrigue and murder, but also romance, and has one of the most authentic on-screen opposite-sex friendships I’ve seen. It’s fun to watch, and champion Bel as she pushes back against sexual politics, hoping that Freddie stays safe despite his unrelenting disregard for danger.
I loved watching Dominic West as handsome anchorman Hector, on the heels of seeing his embodiment of Jean Valjean in the recent PBS version of Les Miserables. Here he often oozes charisma, occasionally comes up vulnerable, and is generally ill-behaved.
Anna Chancellor (The Cazalets), Joshua McGuire (Mr. Turner), and Anton Lesser (Endeavour) round out the cast, each with powerful performances. Lesser’s taut portrayal of Clarence Fendley, Head of News, will keep you guessing at his relationship with the team.
The soundtrack for the British costume drama is snappy (with jazz over the click clack of high heels and the tap tap tap of the typewriter), and the dialogue smart (Morgan also wrote period dramas Birdsong, The Invisible Woman, and Suffragette). With art direction by Eve Stewart (The King’s Speech), the interiors of the upper-class denizens are a faded beauty, a signpost of the crumbling class system.
Dinner is ready, and I’m heading in, tofu stir fry in hand, to start the second season. I don’t know if it will be as good as season one, but nothing would stop me from finding out.
“The Hour” (2011) is AVAILABLE to STREAM
Not rated, but contains mature themes, some brief nudity, and violence.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to see The Period Films List, with the best historical and costume dramas sorted by era. Also see the news about the new adaptation of Emma, and 6 Ways Les Mis (2018) Stands Out.