“Auribus teneo lupum…”
To begin with, if you’re no good at latin (like me), the quote at the top roughly translates to “grab the wolf by the ears”. It is my opinion that The Hour has, quite successfully, done exactly that. (A sidenote: The Hour has been frequently compared to Mad Men – a show set in the same period – but I personally reckon it’s about a different thing all together and so I won’t bother comparing them in this review.)
It’s 1956 – hell of a year! – Elvis releases Heartbreak Hotel, Hitchcock makes The Man Who Knew Too Much, the first snooze alarm clock, the Suez crisis, Hungary is invaded by the Soviets and US President Eisenhower is elected! And, in The Hour, the BBC is planning a revolution in news broadcasting.
“The news reels are dead. We’ve bored the public for too long.”
The Hour follows a regular cast of characters in their journey to create a new television show for the news, aptly called “The Hour”. As Freddie Lyon, the series main protagonist and all round classic journalist/freedom fighter, passionately explains: this has to be the hour you cannot miss.
The Hour is, quite simply, brilliant drama. From the exquisite scenes where characters wind down, stylishly smoking their cigarettes in the light of their desk lamps, to the pitch-perfect moments of journalism excitement in the office, this is excellently written drama that is also a piece of art in it’s own right. From other reviews I’ve read it would also seem that the attention to period detail is very good but I can’t really say that, beyond loving everything 50’s-looking I saw in The Hour, I’m much of an expert in that field.
The show follows events of it’s period with appropriate suspense and even though you may know how the Suez crisis goes, you can feel a genuine sense of excitement as you watch the news unfold and reach the news desks as they are worked, last minute, into the programme that the characters produce.
Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of the brilliant journalist Freddie Lyon is fantastic and the way his performance gels so well with that of Romola Garai (who plays Freddie’s best friend Bel Rowley) is such that you truly believe the two are soulmates. The characters have a depth and history that immediately warms to the viewer and their habit of calling each other “James” and “Moneypenny” is lovely. After watching the pair in action you find yourself remembering lines like “Moneypenny, your eyes look piggy when you lie” and fostering a sense of endearment to the characters – and the classic storyline of two friends who really do love each other but can’t seem to admit it. Hector Madden (played by Dominic West) is Bel’s love interest for the series and is, by being the only member of the programme to have got the job by privilege and not hard work, the character who must prove himself to rest of the cast. Watching him blossom as a journalist and presenter is a pleasure and even though he has his ups and downs by the end of it you really do want him to do well for himself. Also worth a special mention is Anna Chancellor (who plays foreign correspondent for the show, Lix Storm) who portrays the more… mature, alcoholic and at times saucy reporter on the shows roster. She often gets some of the best lines and is the one to so often point out to the others that age old sentiment of seizing the day before it slips out of reach. All the cast are on top form in The Hour, from the feisty journalists to the sweet intern Isaac (Joshua McGuire) – who can’t quite build up the courage to ask Sissy to dance.
At it’s heart, this is a drama that champions the values of good journalism and the people who write it: not only the values of delivering a balanced story but also those of equality in the face of the staunch sexism in the 50’s that characters like Bel must put up with from patronising government minsters and the rich alike. In a time of huge cynicism toward unscrupulous methods used by The News of the World employees and other newspapers involved in the phone hacking scandals, it is easy to forget that there are actually lots of journalists who aren’t interested in stalking celebrities, reporting on weddings and uncovering affairs and are, in fact, more interested in the big picture and the real truths that matter to people – more interested in the real news that affects the every day man, or indeed, woman. Freddie Lyon is the show’s embodiment of these values and is an inspiring character to follow.
The Hour makes you want to dress 50’s, listen to snazzy Jazz music, smoke unhealthy amounts of cigarettes (in a good way) to look chic, marry Freddie Lyon and become a journalist – or a Soviet spy, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have those any more – which in my opinion makes it a stirring success.
Roll on (rumoured) Series 2!
EDIT: Since publishing this post, Series 2 has been confirmed.