BBC’s The Hour: News, Intrigue, and Plenty of Whiskey

Lately, all I want to do is come home from work, take off my trench coat and fedora, pour myself a scotch and light a cigarette, pondering over the current state of government espionage and how it is affecting my work and threatening my life.

Ok, the only thing accurate about the above paragraph is the trench coat and whiskey, but I’ve still been getting a huge kick out of living vicariously through the furtive, intelligent, and vivacious characters on the British TV show, The Hour.

I (and many critics) like comparing this 1950’s period piece to its American counterpart Mad Men. Unfortunately, I didn’t get past the 7th episode of Mad Men; despite its gorgeous costumes and fair amount of good acting, all the characters are so, erm, dickish (as Jon Stewart would frame it), that I honestly couldn’t muster much sympathy for (or even interest in) anything that goes on in their lives. I may take another stab at it, but for now I shelved the show with relief.

Interesting, but dickish characters

So imagine my anglophilic delight when I stumbled upon a roughly similar conceit in BBC’s The Hour, which takes place around the time of the Suez Crisis. The show follows the development of a new BBC segment, an exciting current affairs show that attempts to shake up anesthetized 1950s English viewers with suspenseful reports of catalytic events occurring worldwide and at home.

Interesting, but a bit less self-involved characters. Maybe it’s also the accents.

Though criticized for historic inaccuracies, this show, which premiered last July, holds its own in terms of plot and believability. What I didn’t expect is that the show also includes a murder mystery: Freddie Lyon (a delightfully frenetic Ben Whishaw), an ambitious and passionate journalist, delves deep into the dangerous world of behind-the-scenes politics and secrets held and protected by MI6, in his efforts to uncover the truth surrounding a series of murders. Meanwhile, his best friend Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) acts as the producer for the news show The Hour, fighting off the constraints of blunt sexism and the personal temptations emanating from the charm of a certain team member. Personally, the character I particularly favor is Lix (Anna Chancellor), a no-bullshit journalist quick with words who never misses a beat, and gives you no time to wonder if her being a woman automatically signifies incompetence.

Freddie and the new anchor, dashing if not brilliant Hector Madden (Dominic West), butt heads over Hector’s lack of credentials and his place on the show, among many other things. But it soon emerges that this team has bigger issues to deal with as they try to keep The Hour’s integrity intact in the face of government restraint and an uneasy feeling that nothing is what it seems.

Witty, dry, and generally low on the maudlin and high on subtle action, The Hour’s only shortcoming in terms of viewing pleasure is that there are only 6 episodes, and I’ve already seen 4. Le sigh.

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