Hour turns back time again

This en­thralling se­ries is set to im­press anew, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TELEVISION -

IT was an easy, ef­fi­cient bit of short­hand call­ing the UK drama The Hour an English Mad Men when the 1950s-era se­ries set be­hind the scenes of a fic­tional BBC news pro­gram pre­miered on ABC1 back in 2011.

The trap­pings of the pe­riod, the old­style gen­der stereo­types and sex­ual pol­i­tics, the deft com­bi­na­tion of nos­tal­gia and hind­sight – the Brits proved pretty skilled at fram­ing all of th­ese in an in­volv­ing set of sto­ry­lines span­ning six episodes.

It also helped that stars such as Do­minic West and Ro­mola Garai gave the likes of Mad Men’s Jon Hamm and Christina Hen­dricks a run for their money when it came to look­ing sharp while smartly, sen­si­tively ex­pos­ing the flaws and virtues of their characters.

De­spite th­ese sur­face sim­i­lar­i­ties, how­ever, The Hour had its own iden­tity and con­tin­ues to carve out its own niche as a com­pelling piece of work as it re­turns for a sec­ond sea­son.

One year has passed since the events of sea­son one ended with con­spir­a­cies un­cov­ered and jour­nal­is­tic in­tegrity emerg­ing tri­umphant, even though Garai’s prin­ci­pled pro­ducer Bel Row­ley and Ben Whishaw’s fire­brand re­porter Fred­die Lyon lost their jobs.

Bel is back over­see­ing The Hour as th­ese new episodes kick off, but her news pro­gram is in trou­ble.

Sure, its pre­sen­ter Hec­tor Mad­den (West, in a role ide­ally suited to his tal­ents) is a bit of a star – and he’s cer­tainly tak­ing ad­van­tage of his celebrity sta­tus, en­joy­ing the nightlife per­haps a lit­tle too much – but the show it­self has lost some of its edge, some­thing new head hon­cho Ran­dall Brown (Peter Ca­paldi, less colour­ful than in The Thick of It but just as in­tim­i­dat­ing) wants to rem­edy.

The re­turn of Fred­die from the US just might do the trick – he comes back from his in­ter­na­tional so­journ well-read, well-dressed (with a natty beard) and more self-as­sured thanks to a stint as a po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist in New York City.

Be­fore too long he’s up­set­ting the ap­ple cart by claim­ing the pow­ers that be are ig­nor­ing the ris­ing crime rate in cer­tain ar­eas of Lon­don – ar­eas that the in­creas­ingly night-owlish Hec­tor can fre­quently be found, some­times in the com­pany of shady in­di­vid­u­als.

Add to this a ri­val net­work’s bid to snatch both the news pro­gram’s au­di­ence and pre­sen­ter, not to men­tion a hand­ful of other in­trigu­ing plot de­vel­op­ments, and The Hour is once again set to en­snare its au­di­ence in a web that’s grip­ping from start to end.

The Hour’s script­ing re­mains tight and so­phis­ti­cated, thanks to top-shelf writer Abi Mor­gan ( The Iron Lady), and its per­for­mances are ex­cel­lent.

Sky­fall scene-stealer Whishaw is per­fectly cast as the sharp, nervy Fred­die, and West sub­tly dis­plays some in­ter­est­ing shades of Hec­tor’s mul­ti­fac­eted char­ac­ter. But for mine, Garai re­mains the heart and soul of The Hour.

A stroll down me­mory lane in some ways, a ter­rific par­al­lel of mod­ern ways in oth­ers, The Hour con­tin­ues to im­press in its sec­ond sea­son. Keep it coming.

9pm, ABC1.

Thurs­days,

Ben Whishaw, Peter Ca­paldi, Ro­mola Garai and Do­minic West.

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