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
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