This review was first published in the television section of The Student, Edinburgh University’s student-run newspaper (Tue 20th November 2012)
The Hour, BBC2, Wednesday, 9pm
Everyone’s favourite 1950s newsroom drama The Hour has returned for a second series, and it’s out with the Suez Crisis and Communist spies of series one and in with the nuclear arms race and Soho criminality of 1957. After the criticisms lobbed at Abi Morgan’s script last year, this series’ opener had a lot to prove.
Whilst lauded for its meticulous set design, costumes, hair and make-up, as well as its top-notch cast, series one was accused of being patchily inauthentic, with the question ‘But would they have said that in 1956?’ issuing from the mouth of many a pedantic critic.
Another problem was its pesky genre-crossing: was it a soapy period piece or a political thriller? If Mad Men could be gripping without anything really happening, where was the need for all the thrills and chills?
It seems, however, to have ironed out these supposed problems. The human drama and thriller aspect of the season opener blended seamlessly together, and the script was as spot-on as the acting.
Romola Garai is excellent as producer Bel, elevating the character from the stock woman-in-a-man’s-world figure she could have easily become and investing her with just the right amount of ambition, ability and insecurity. Ben Whishaw is mesmerising as principled, fearless reporter (and now co-news anchor) Freddie, and Dominic West brilliantly portrays the infuriating but talented presenter Hector, whose penchant for drinking, womanising and seedy underworld nightclubs is a deliciously ticking time-bomb.
There’s a fire burning beneath the surface of Oona Chaplin’s desperate housewife Marnie (never have egg yolks been beaten so furiously), and the look on her face as Hector kisses her cheek and says what must surely be the three most chilling words a wife can hear – ‘Don’t wait up’ – is priceless. The women’s stories here are, gratifyingly, every bit as important as the men’s.
Anna Chancellor steals scenes as war correspondent Lix, with her cigarettes, high-waisted trousers and gloriously plummy vowels. Peter Capaldi is fascinating as Head of News Randall Brown, cutting through bullshit, offering uncanny insights into people’s psyches and exhibiting a mean case of OCD. The hinted-at history he shares with Lix is a particularly intriguing side-plot.
Violence, or the threat of it, runs throughout the episode, whether on a personal or global scale. Soho gang culture is set alongside the government scaremongering of the public in order to justify their nuclear ambitions. Throw in the growing BBC/ITV rivalry and you have yourself a potentially explosive plot comprised of a number of skilfully interwoven threads. The result? An utterly captivating hour of television.