The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

‘ LIGHTS on, ev­ery­body frock and suit up please! OK, peo­ple on cam­era pre­tend to smoke. Queue cliches and, we’re live!’’ Hello and wel­come to the sec­ond se­ries of The Hour, the hit BBC se­ries about a TV cur­rent af­fairs show in the mid-1950s, which ABC1 pre­mieres on Thurs­day night.

This episode sets up the same two-plot for­mat that worked last year. One story is about the per­sonal lives of the pre­sen­ters and their pas­sion for cur­rent af­fairs TV. The other is about a story they work on. Last year it was com­mu­nist spies among the chat­terati, this time it looks like cor­rup­tion in high-ish places.

So set­tle in be­cause there is a lot more in The Hour than Sixty Min­utes!

There cer­tainly is. Among the usual hol­i­day dross (does the ABC se­cretly want to en­cour­age its au­di­ence to sub­scribe to pay-TV?), The Hour is a sea­sonal stand­out.

A cracker cast helps. Do­minic West, best known as hard-drink­ing, wom­an­is­ing Baltimore cop Jimmy McNulty in The Wire, plays hard-drink­ing, wom­an­is­ing Lon­don news an­chor Hec­tor Mad­den.

For Wire ob­ses­sives who strug­gle with McNulty be­ing fic­tional, West’s new role is un­set­tling. For a start he sounds like an up­per­class Brit rather than a Baltimore cop and where West as McNulty was whip­pet-thin, he has porked up to play Hec­tor as a hand­some man whose dis­so­lute life is just start­ing to erode his finely chis­elled features.

Still, West is very good in­deed as a not es­pe­cially com­pe­tent news­reader (he’s no jour­nal­ist) who has built a ca­reer on looks, charm and con­nec­tions but is unset­tled by the way the world is chang­ing. Hec­tor has a vague idea he should de­velop a news sense, work harder and per­haps treat women as peo­ple, not pop­sies, but de­cides to have an­other scotch, and woman, in­stead.

His per­for­mance is matched by Peter Ca­paldi, who will also spend the rest of his ca­reer hop­ing peo­ple will not ex­pect him to reprise a cer­tain role, in his case Down­ing Street spin doc­tor Mal­colm Tucker in The Thick of It. Ca­paldi joins the cast as BBC news ed­i­tor Ran­dall Brown, brought in to shake up the team. The role lends it­self to a Tucker-tone but Ca­paldi wisely avoids par­o­dy­ing his own fa­mous char­ac­ter. While both are in­vet­er­ate plot­ters, Mal­colm has an abu­sive vo­cab­u­lary as enor­mous as his tem­per, while Ran­dall is as calm as he is cun­ning.

In the first episode, the pair over­whelms other key con­tin­u­ing characters. Ro­mola Garai as pro­ducer Bel Row­ley is given lines from the 70s sis­ter­hood to spout. Anna Chan­cel­lor as side­kick Lix Storm is all Hildy John­son scotch and cyn­i­cism on the rocks.

But Ben Whishaw stays strong as cru­sad­ing re­porter Fred­die Lyon, both foun­da­tion and key­stone of the se­ries. Fred­die is a con­tem­po­rary writer’s take on the an­gry young men of Lon­don let­ters in the 50s — Alan Sil­li­toe, John Os­borne and that ilk. Badly dressed and with a huge head of Ge­orge Or­well-es­que hair, Fred­die is an­gry about all the stan­dard 50s is­sue. He is en­raged about the way the government spends more on de­fence than pro­tect­ing peo­ple from crime, an­gry over racism as Caribbean im­mi­grants flood into Lon­don and up­set at the way Bri­tain treats Colonel Nasser, found­ing fa­ther of the line of dic­ta­tors that still holds sway in Egypt.

He is es­pe­cially up­set about class. In se­ries one, Fred­die is fu­ri­ous that Hec­tor got the an­chor’s job on the strength of who, rather than what, he knows. In 50s Bri­tain, the mes­sage is that mar­ry­ing well, hav­ing a bad de­gree from an an­cient univer­sity and a medal won in the war trumps in­tel­lect, en­ergy and abil­ity ev­ery time.

To any­body old enough to have en­dured a Bri­tish class struc­ture based on whose par­ents were at school to­gether, or who have read books by peo­ple who did, Fred­die’s fury rings true.

But his en­thu­si­asm for in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing hits a less sat­is­fy­ing note. In his hom­i­lies about the need for accountability and the dan­ger to democ­racy from government se­crecy, Fred­die sounds straight from the 70s or, more likely, a con­tem­po­rary take on those times.

This ac­counts for some of the crit­i­cism the writer of The Hour, Abi Mor­gan (writer of the Mar­garet Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady), has copped. Some of it is un­fair, notably the al­le­ga­tion that the show tries and fails to live up to Mad Men.

Cer­tainly, characters in both shows knock back the booze and seem in­ca­pable of breath­ing un­less as­sisted by to­bacco. Cer­tainly, both se­ries are set in so­ci­eties about to change.

The Hour

Peter Ca­paldi, left, with other

cast mem­bers of

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