on September 9, 2011
The Hour is currently being shown on BBC America, and the important thing I wanted to let people know about is that if you are not very happy with what you have seen on BBC America, don't blame it on the drama. In the UK, the length of each episode (without commercials) is 60 minutes. On BBC America, the episode WITH COMMERCIALS is squeezed into a 60-minute time slot. If you feel that you are missing something (approximately 10 minutes?) while watching it on BBC America, YOU ARE, and the drama suffers accordingly. The good news is that this DVD contains the full episodes.
I enjoyed watching this mystery (the full episodes). The drama unfolds well, and the cast is excellent. I can't say enough about the cast. I would watch any show with only one of the following actors: Ramola Garai, Anna Chancellor, Jamie Parker (Scripps from The History Boys), Juliet Stevenson, Tim Pigott-Smith, or Julian Rhind-Tutt. Lucky for me that they all are in this series. There are many other recognizable and talented actors (aka Masterpiece alumni): Dominic West, john Bowe, Andrew Scott and Nicholas Woodeson. While I was not familiar with the Ben Whishaw's work, I will now add him to my list of must view actors.
My engagement in the drama grew throughout the six hours. By the end, I had to know how it was going to turn out. My only criticism is that it leaves a lot of loose ends on what happens to the people involved in the drama. Presumably, this allows more freedom for the second series, which has been approved by the BBC, but it bothered me. Still, I gave it five stars. I did like the mystery and its solution.
I guess I can't blame BBC America for thinking that it can cut 10 minutes or so out of each hour. PBS does it with Masterpiece, and I was shocked to read that the Torchwood: Miracle Day is 60 minutes in the UK and only 50 minutes on Starz. That really upsets me. At least PBS' Masterpiece is free. I pay a lot of money each month to watch truncated shows on Starz? What is this world coming to? So much for the free market and capitalism.
With its methodical pacing and intricate narrative, BBC's "The Hour" has the general allure of a good book unfolding. While its six episode arc is, to say the least, what one might consider on a slow burn--there is enough of a payoff for viewers patient enough to appreciate the show's numerous charms. So much hyperbole and advertising have insisted we view "The Hour" as some sort of cousin to "Mad Men," but the two shows have little in common aside from being period piece dramas bolstered by an easy social atmosphere of drinking and smoking. It seems to me that a better comparison would be the more contemporary news drama "State of Play," but with a considerably less frenetic appeal. Ultimately, I don't think that the program is for everyone--but I quite liked this mix of government espionage with workplace intrigue.
The series kicks off in 1956 with the launch of a different breed of television news programming. The Hour is to be a uniquely formatted news magazine show that tackles the real issues of the day in a more substantial way. The principle cast include Romola Garai as the producer, Ben Whishaw as the reporter and Dominic West as the anchor. The first episode deals primarily with character introduction and getting everyone at place on The Hour. But amidst all the workplace shenanigans, an old friend of Whishaw meets with an untimely death--and this will have unforeseen repercussions as the narrative advances. After the new show struggles upon its inception, the intrepid crew goes after a high profile story and find themselves embroiled in conspiracies and government intrigue. As the Suez Crisis ramps up, further complications ensue and The Hour and its principles are thrust into the middle of an international scandal.
Despite a stage on world politics, "The Hour" consistently balances the larger drama with more intimate character work. This is not just about grand espionage plots (filtered through the lens of modern sensibilities, unfortunately), it is about the machinations required to be a success in the professional world of that era. West is an oily charmer, Garai has an understated appeal, and the unconventional Whishaw steals much of the show with a nervous drive. The supporting cast is filled in with a number of big names and familiar faces and the performances are uniformly excellent. The show is far from perfect--at times the narrative can be puzzling or implausible and, as I said, the central mysteries are adjudged by contemporary moral standards. But, all in all, it's hard not to recommend "The Hour" to patient viewers who aren't searching for an immediate action payoff. KGHarris, 8/11.
Summer seems to be test time for new series for the television audience and so far the shows that are coming out of Britain look the most promising. First we had the abbreviated 3 episode appetizer ZEN which in its short run got progressively more interesting and promising and now come THE HOUR from BBC America. The series just debuted in what appeared to be prolonged trailer for the long series that hopefully will continue: the title refers to a television news broadcast that is created before our eyes, the final scenes being a toast to this new venture acting as an overture to what is to come.
Overtures to operas usually introduce themes that will appear in the opera that follows once the curtain opens and that is how THE HOUR comes across. This is a time piece set in the 1950s when Cold War-era England was awash in the news of the Suez crisis, one of Britain's sharpest intimations of loss, with a more intimate look at sex, ambition and espionage in the workplace along with the world wide speculation of JFK as a vice presidential candidate in the US. It's a time of unsettling change, except at the BBC, where even driven reporters are assigned to do feel-good newsreels about debutante balls and royal visits. The series opener, written by Bafta Award-winning Abi Morgan, takes us behind the scenes of the launch of a topical news program in London 1956, and introduces a highly competitive, sharp-witted and passionate love triangle at the heart of the series through the lives of enigmatic producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) and her rivals, journalist Freddie Lyon (Ben Wishaw) and anchorman Hector Madden (Dominic West): we will begin to see the decade on the threshold of change - from the ruthless sexual politics behind the polite social façade of the Fifties to the revelations that redefined the world for a new generation. Aside from the behind the scenes views and devious workings of the BBC we also see the beginning of a crime element in which the victim is touted as being part of a robbery while the ever-suspicious and career climbing Freddie sees it as a murder to be investigated. There are 1950s reminders of Debutante Balls, the universal cigarette smoking habits, the 'gentlemen only clubs' where women are not allowed (secondary citizens, you know!), and all the clothes and hats that reek of the 50s.
The cast is rich in fine British actors (Juliet Stevenson and Tim Pigott-Smith appear briefly in roles that will likely be expanded, Anna Chancellor is the acid tongued foreign correspondent, Burn Gorman is the suspicious, hatted man, etc), but if were only Ben Wishaw and Romola Garai and Domenic West every week the show would sail. There is a lot of style and sophistication and just the right amount of British intrigue and humor that almost sure that this series will fly. Grady Harp, August 11
"The Hour" certainly represents the best in British Television. A first-rate thriller that combines politics and espionage, "The Hour" kept me on the edge of my seat for every episode (which, happily, last longer than sixty minutes). Furthermore, the series is outstanding not only in its acting, costumes, and settings, but also in its writing. The characters are surprisingly well-developed, far more than I've come to expect in this genre of television drama, in which characters tend to be stereotypical, if not conventional.
The acting, is, as one might expect from a BBC series, superb, not only the leading players, but also the minor characters, including Tim Piggot-Smith and Juliet Stevenson, as the secretive Lord and Lady Elms; Anna Chancellor, as an almost burnt-out foreign correspondent; Oona Chaplin, as the faithful wife of the philandering news anchor; and Julian Rhind-Tutt, as a slippery special aid to Prime Minister Anthony Eden. I was particularly moved, however, by the performance of Anton Lesser, as Clarence, the chief producer, whose very career hangs on the success or failure of "The Hour," a ground-breaking live BBC television news show, which cannot fail to rattle cages, both at the proper BBC and at the improper (as it happens) Westminster, the seat of the British Government.
One of the factors that makes the series so convincing is the attention to detail as far as the costumes and the settings are concerned. In fact, watching the series took me right back to the 'fifties, jogging my memories about wearing pencil-line calf-length wool skirts and cashmere twinsets by day, and ankle-length ballerina skirts by night. The scenario of the Suez Crisis and the Russians in Hungary similarly conjured up crystal-clear images, some delightful, others thrilling, not to say terrifying: I was in Holland, my first baby was born in April; I was listening to the BBC: Grace Kelly was marrying Prince Ranier of Monaco; the British and Russians were testing nuclear weapons; and Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan were clowning on "The Goon Show," which I found funny, but my Belgian husband found inexplicable. In Fall we went to Brussels, where, for three days, throngs of students kept pouring into the streets shouting in unison, "Hongrie! Liberté!" (Hungary! Freedom!), even as the Soviet tanks were closing in on Budapest; and in Winter it was so cold that all the canals in Amsterdam froze solid, and no coal was to be had due to aftereffects of the Suez Canal crisis. Although I didn't realise it at the time, 1956 was an amazing year, and "The Hour" replicates its social and political tensions with what seems to my memory to be striking accuracy.
Since the British Broadcasting Corporation played such an important part in my life in 1956, I was especially interested in a drama set at the heart of the BBC, and the making of a live television news program; for me, the espionage and politics were icing on the cake!
I do not think, however, that one has to be of vintage years to enjoy this political thriller, which is so well written and beautifully acted that its riveting plot and absorbing drama will leave you hoping for a second season; and, if such hopes are not realised, "The Hour", with its complex twists and turns and attention to detail, is so enthralling that you might want to enjoy it a second time. And, perhaps, even a third.
WARNING: Do not be tempted watch the Behind the Scenes feature on Disc One, until after you have watched the entire series. It gives away the ending!
on April 22, 2012
I had already seen parts of The Hour on BBC America (not in HD, I might add) when I decided to order the Blu-ray DVD. And was it ever worth it! Several other reviewers have already given the plot summary, so I won't. The quality of the Blu-ray DVD is superior to the version I had seen, but the best part about the DVDs was the extra footage. BBC America cuts down some programs to add in commercials, and watching the complete program was like watching a different show. I started at the beginning and just kept going. In fact, I got so caught up in it that I watched the last four episodes back to back to back, ending around 2:00 a.m. I found it riveting, and I found myself holding my breath from time to time because of the suspense. If you think you've seen The Hour on BBC America, you haven't. I can't recommend the DVD highly enough. The picture was crisp and the added footage made the purchase worth every penny.
The strengths of this series are clear -- the setting is fun, the characters are engaging, some of the performances are brilliant (Anna Chancellor as Lix Storm in particular), and the mysteries seem deep, dangerous, and compelling to the audience as they are to the characters on screen. The weaknesses are harder to discuss without giving away crucial plot points. Suffice it to say that the script cheats at times -- secret codes that seem much more at home in a pulp novel than real life, a trained killer in pursuit of one of our protagonists kills himself at the last minute for no reason the audience can fathom. The mystery that sets the plot in motion turns out to involve two separate revelations -- one about the British government and one about the Soviets. The latter is trite and unbelievable. That said, the series was better than most, and if the BBC should produce a second season I will surely watch it.
[Amendment of September 2012: There is a second series coming! I've even been able to watch the first two episodes, and they're great. Hooray for the BBC.]
on January 3, 2015
I'd seen a positive review of the show and the premise seemed interesting, so my husband and I got the first Season of episodes via Netflix. (We would subsequently purchase the second season to watch at our leisure). The performances by Ben Whishaw, Dominic West, Anna Chancellor, and Peter Capaldi, introduced in the second season, are tremendous. Set in the 50s, this is a fictional series about the birth of the BBC's first investigative news show occurring simultaneously during several international crises. Plot lines concern the discovery and investigation of what would turn out to be a complex domestic and international scandal. Dominic West is the talking head for the show who starts out a completely self-promoting insecure cad but develops into much more because of his interactions with Whitshaw, the idealistically naive upstart reporter. Chancellor plays the seasoned, somewhat hardened and jaded war correspondent, and is terrific. While the plot line develops you are also front-row to the growing pains involved in producing such a show while under the thumb of government and BBC censors, hobbled by the existent technology of the time during pre-cold-war conditions and it's fascinating! The strong performances by the supporting cast including Oona Chaplin (West's wife), Hannah Tointon (central to the scandal), Peter Sullivan (police Commander and West's long-time friend), Tom Burke (rival producer), and Morgan Watkins only add to the quality of the production. I don't want to give away anything but the show is sensational! Suffice it to say, if this genre appeals to you, it's a don't miss!
on May 6, 2016
A coworker recommended THE HOUR knowing that I am a history buff. Set in 1956, THE HOURS focuses on two major incidents - the tragic uprising Hungary against Soviet occupation and Egypt taking control of the Suez Canal from the British and French. An exciting new news show is starting on the BBC called THE HOUR and it deals with these two incidents that could inflame international tensions.
THE HOURS is off to a good start. It has mystery, romance, espionage and the changing values of 1956 Britain. There is a murder in the "tube" of a prominent professor and a mysterious new Russian language expert at the BBC. The tension builds as an attractive young woman becomes producer of THE HOUR in a male-dominated business. Soon she becomes romantically involved with the host of the show. Male-female stereotypes ensue destroying the idea of a woman finally earning her way to produce a TV show.
I have mixed feelings about THE HOUR. It does a great job in exploring two major international incidents of 1956 that are forgotten today. The world was in flux due to the COLD WAR and recovery from WWII. The show does a great job in recreating the look and feel of 1956 London but eventually all the romantic entanglements and espionage become annoying and boring. There is the suggestion the Prime Minister and the government are more than just incompetent but willing to commit murder to keep secrets. Relationships are hard to understand. A government official is always on hand to apparently censure THE HOUR just in case they step over the line. Freedom of speech in Britain appears to be limited.
Of course, it is a talented cast headed by Dominic West as news anchor Hector Madden. I was mesmerized by gorgeous Oona Chaplin as his loving but often betrayed wife. Unfortunately, the series becomes bogged down in its own story and becomes painfully slow-moving with not much of any resolution. It's not bad. I just always expect more from the BBC.
⌚ I picked this up mostly out of appreciation for Dominic West, who had a major, breakout role in one of the best programs in broadcast history, The Wire. It's intriguing to see him in a vastly different role here, and I gained all the more respect for him when realizing how much work he must have put into getting the Baltimore accent down in The Wire (I had assumed he was a U.S. actor since he was picked as the protagonist in that very American serial, yet he's a Brit).
⌚ The Hour was my introduction to the sultry and talented Romola Garai, who almost instantly enchanted me. The 3rd standout actor in the series is Ben Whishaw as the intellect of the team, but I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the striking Burn Gorman (a face you don't forget, and one that you've probably seen elsewhere), who is among the best of recurring characters.
⌚ As for the plot: Fantastic! It has a little bit of something for everyone, without coming across as stretched too thin. That said, it runs afoul of formulaic television, so some viewers may be slightly frustrated with the lack of what they are accustomed to in programming. I can't think of any drawbacks at the moment, which is unusual when I assess a TV serial. My only regret is that I accidently purchased the DVD rather than the Blu-ray; the picture quality makes me yearn for the Blu-ray version (spend the extra five bucks!)
on January 2, 2013
What great ensemble work! What excellent writing! Brilliant casting! Marvelous actor chemistry! Provocative view of England during the 1950's. Humor, drama, ideas! So why isn't the BBC opting for a third season of this wonderful show?