“Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
As I sit writing this review, I am shaking.
Such is the effect the second series finale of The Hour has had on me, that I’m compelled to sit and write this at this very moment – in case I forget just how intensely encapsulated I am by this final triumph that I have Abbi Morgan (the show’s writer/creator) to thank for being able to see it.
The Hour has always been a fantastic television programme. As I said in my review of the first series, it portrays a practice of journalism at its best at a time when the profession really does need a champion to trumpet the good it is capable of doing. (A noble pursuit of the truth, and all that.) I won’t bother going over all the nuances of production skill again – the beautiful sets, the astronomically good cast, the eye-wateringly good cinematography – because I want to focus instead on the new – of which there is plenty. I will say this though: The Hour hasn’t lost its touch… and it just continues to get better.
“Impossible is just what hasn’t been done. It’s not impossible when it’s possible.”
As the team reassembles under the new leadership of Randal Brown – Clarence’s replacement (played by the superb Peter Capaldi, known for his role of Malcolm Tucker in political satire The Thick of It) – all the familiar faces make a return coupled with plenty of new ones too. Things are going well for the show, despite the fallout from Lord Elms’s interview at the end of the first series and Hector has become a star as a result. The series focuses around a vice-ring in Soho that had led to police corruption, government corruption, corporate corruption… basically every kind of corruption. It was a brilliant story and, I think, an improvement on that of the first series. Not to mention, this time we get a proper villain (Raphael Cilenti, played by Vincent Riotta) who is behind it all… and he is truly chilling.
For me, the over-arching political conspiracy of the first was interesting but a bit too promising of – as Clarence pointed out – a story it “didn’t deliver”. While it was brilliant, it ended with a whimper – rather than a bang.
However, lead writer Abbie Morgan has clearly listened to criticisms of the first run of The Hour… because the ending of the second is just about as explosive as one could imagine.
This year, the show went from strength to strength every week.
There were more subplots – the past between Lix and Randal being one that particularly stood out – and more character development. This is a show that has really felt like it’s moving forward and in the finale it did not fail to deliver. There were times during the sixth (and final) episode that had me watching through my fingers and crying out loud at the screen in front of me.
Freddie Lyon (played by Ben Whishaw) is back, of course, but even he has changed for the better (if you even thought that was possible). In this series, Freddie has returned from his world travels a different man. As he puts it:
“I went somewhere… America. And you know what? Being a nobody in a country where everybody thinks they can be a somebody; that’s infectious, exciting. I want that. For me.”
Though he still has his journalistic zeal, this is a Freddie who’s become more familiar with the spotlight and is hungry for success. It’s an interesting change because it brings out a side of him we haven’t seen before – the new, more ambitious Freddie is a far more compelling person to watch. He is doing what he always should have done… grabbing the wolf by the ears.
“There are life’s natural heroes and then there’s you. Your words. You always believe somewhere deep in you that there is a coward. […] Why should I have expected anything less than fearlessness from you?”
Bel also benefits from development and the show almost feels as though the narrative is structured around her now more than anyone else. That is a good thing, by the way, because Romola Garai is a brilliant actor and also because throughout this series, which is so full of earth-shaking moments, she is the rock that the viewer can cling on to.
She no longer suffers from an attachment to “unavailable men” and sails the newsroom ship like she deserves it. She does, however, have a new semi-romantic interest but, in my opinion at least, it’s never really capitalised enough and always feels like a sideline alongside the feeling she and Freddie have for each other.
I mentioned Lix and Randal earlier and, while I will keep to my promise of no spoilers, I will say that yes: he is the man whom Lix referred to letting slip through her fingers in the first series.
Their scenes together are a masterclass in understated yet compelling script writing. Capaldi and Anna Chancellor are, of course, on top form throughout and make a formidable combination. Randal slots in perfectly amongst the other characters and is someone I would like to see more of. When watching him and Lix together, you can’t help but be reminded of Freddie and Bel.
Worth mentioning also, is Hector (Dominic West) and his wife Marnie’s (Oona Castilla Chaplin) ongoing relationship. In a brilliant twist, Marnie gets her own programme on ITV and becomes quite successful. This makes for a brilliant dynamic between herself and Hector – and readjusts the character from being a housewife to a strong, independent woman. She’s done taking Hector’s misdemeanors and is making a name for herself. As she puts it later in the series: “The best revenge is to be successful.” Chaplin, in particular, puts on a stunning performance in every scene she’s in.
There is only one way I can describe the second series of The Hour, and even that doesn’t do it justice.
It is quite simply a stellar, stellar, phenomenally excellent drama that tackles a number of questions that are still relevant today – like the protection of sources, how far should journalists go to tell the story and what if a story becomes dangerous to pursue? Once again, Abi Morgan has shown that this is The Hour that you can’t miss.
A third series is currently unconfirmed, but after the eye-wateringly good finale of the second it would be a travesty for the BBC not to commission one.
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