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REVIEW: The Hour – Series 2 (Spoiler free)

15 Dec

The Hour, Series 2 - Freddie Lyon played by Ben Whishaw

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.

The Hour, Season 2 - Anna Chancellor and Peter Capaldi

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.

The Hour - Romala Garai as Bel RowleyShe 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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Images displayed are owned by the BBC. 

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Review: The Hour (Series 1)

5 Sep

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.

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