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Summer Rewind: The Hour

23 Jul

The summer TV schedule isn’t as light as it once was and so it can be harder to squeeze in catch up projects of recent and not so long ago shows you missed. Last year I blasted through Scandal and took a slightly longer route with The Comeback, pairing a current show dominating discussion with one that is often featured on “Canceled Too Soon” lists (The Comeback is making its own comeback much to my delight in November). In a somewhat unplanned decision this has been repeated this year, first with Game of Thrones taking the Scandal position followed by the 2011 BBC 2 series The Hour.

Why I didn’t watch The Hour when it first aired is a bit of a mystery as it has all the elements that I find appealing – great cast, a writer I admire, a 1950s setting, fantastic looking costumes and a spy plot – and it’s even more curious as to why it has taken me so long to get to it. Yesterday I contemplated a Gossip Girl rewatch (I blame Preserve and this incredible Leighton Meester op-ed) and instead decided it was time to start The Hour as the boxset had been sitting on my desk untouched for a week. The length of the show (a total of 12 episodes) as it was pointed out to me on Twitter made the choice a no-brainer. And I’m so glad I did as less than 24 hours later I have finished season 1; it’s love.

Drooling over the costume design and giving out Diane Lockhart broach accessorizing points has occurred throughout these first six episodes and there will be a separate post dedicated to costuming. A more general approach to the first season is how I will be tackling The Hour today and there are some slight spoilers throughout.

The Hour cast shotIt’s 1956 and the world is feeling pretty unstable; the Cold War rages on and there is political unrest across the globe. These larger events are told through a new BBC news program which distills the events of the week into “The Hour.” The Suez Crisis frames much of the first season and just like a current HBO show it uses real events to infuse tension into the story as we see how the characters respond to the big story.

Unlike The Newsroom it doesn’t feel like it is preaching or attempting to teach in a condescending manner. This might have something to do with the time frame as there are only going to be a certain number of viewers who remember the Suez Crisis whereas you can all but guarantee that the BP oil spill or 9/11 are relatively fresh memories for The Newsroom’s audience. One other notable difference is The Hour is created and written by Abi Morgan, whereas Aaron Sorkin is at the helm of The Newsroom; a repeated criticism of Sorkin’s recent project is the treatment of the female characters and while The Hour is set in a time where sexism was far more inherent, it comes across as the more enlightened of the two. Bel still faces comments and assumptions based on her gender, but she’s allowed to make mistakes without looking like an idiot. No they don’t have email in The Hour, but I bet they wouldn’t pull the same stunt as MacKenzie’s “send all” error. Comparison time over.

The HourGetting accurate information when reporting the news is still not an easy task in 2014, even harder in 1956 without the technology that can hinder as much as help in the present day. The phone is one of the most reliable forms they have in The Hour and seeing reels of film getting cut together evokes nostalgic feelings for a form that was in no doubt way more of faff. And yet there is something glorious about seeing the individual frames.

Idealism, cynicism and pragmatism create a constant push/pull between the three leads; while the establishment they work for is dedicated to an impartial position there is still a rigid power system in place that threatens to censor and assert control. Freddie’s tenacity and drive to find the truth has the potential to destroy everything they have all worked towards and there are other sinister operatives at play with a mole in the BBC (*sidenote* thanks to a saturation of moles on 24 I often roll my eyes at this plot point, I did think it was well executed here and fits the cloak and dagger nature of the time period). What drives these characters varies and ambition is far more important to Dominic West’s Hector than the pursuit of truth, for Bel (the fantastic Romola Garai) she wants to keep the job she has worked so hard for and yet she is willing to risk it for the story.

the hour bel and freddieConflict comes in all forms including romantic entanglements such as the affair between the married Hector – Oona Chaplin plays his high society wife Marnie who knows of his affairs and uses the great tool of denial with a broad fake smile to maintain the facade – and Bel. Affairs can be dangerous and this one between producer and presenter has all the trappings of broken hearts and the potential for ruining careers. Enter Freddie as Bel’s best friend, he stands in the shadows pining for the woman he calls Moneypenny (the first James Bond novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and a copy sits on Freddie’s desk) and he not so subtly infers his love for her on many occasion quoting E.E. Cummings and stirring up all my shipper feelings. There’s an intimacy between these two that can be summed up by unspoken cigarette sharing and how comfortable they are in each other’s company. Tumblr gif sets I will be coming for you later.

Balancing a variety of stories including wars raging on several continents with tensions on the homefront and tying them together through acts of espionage makes the big story personal; Freddie justified his reckless actions for this reason and his passion for the truth is both dangerous and honorable. There is of course the potential for a character like Freddie to become a “troubled genius who is always right” trope and yet he is grounded thanks to such a strong performance from Ben Whishaw, his relationship/chemistry with Bel and because the writing doesn’t quite go ‘there’ with Freddie. There is some sense of self-awareness even as he nears the edge of the precarious path he is on. How long it will stay like this is unclear at this point and the next six episodes are sitting on my desk just crying out to be watched.

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2 Responses to “Summer Rewind: The Hour”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 10 New Yorker TV Posts: From The Hummingbird Theory to Reality TV | TV Ate My Wardrobe - July 24, 2014

    […] the same package as The Hour boxset and another show on my catch up list is Enlightened and Emily Nussbaum’s […]

  2. Best of TV Costuming 2014 and The Shows I Finally Watched | TV Ate My Wardrobe - December 29, 2014

    […] Daisies and The Hour are tonally different with one inhabiting a heightened reality with the other being very much […]

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