“The Hour”, Season 1Posted: November 29, 2012
I’m already a total geek about BBC’s “bonnet dramas”, so when they came out with their mid-century drama “The Hour”, of course I was excited to check it out. Mad Men meets The Newsroom (yes I know The Newsroom came out after, but it’s a fitting reference), “The Hour” centers around a 1950’s news show run by a dynamic team including young producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), charismatic anchorman Hector Madden (Dominic West), ambitious reporter and Bel’s best friend Freddie Lyons (Ben Whishaw), and experienced war correspondence Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor.)
Comparisons to Mad Men is inevitable, and you can certainly find some similarities in the two shows’ characters: there’s something of Don’s womanizing way in Hector, some of Joan’s no-nonsense attitude in Bel, some of Peggy’s drive and ambition in Freddie, and some of Betty’s housewife ennui in Hector’s wife Marnie (Oona Chaplin, who apparently was having a fantastic year – I mean, she was in Sherlock, Game of Thrones, and this!) To me, though, the period and some broad strokes of characters are where the resemblance ends. “The Hour” is part workplace drama, part Cold War thriller – the first season is set against the Suez Crisis as the production team constantly run into attempts to sanitize their reports, and there’s an entire subplot about Freddie’s investigation of a debutante’s apparent suicide, which leads him to a bigger conspiracy. So it may not be the character study that Mad Men is, and the story can be a little slow at first, but it is still greatly enjoyable – the characters of Mad Men are so fucked up that sometimes I find it hard to watch.
The acting is excellent across the board, but my favorite performance has to be from Anna Chancellor as the acid-tongued Lix Storm (that’s a great name, isn’t it? Sounds like she should be one of the X-Men) – plus I’m just happy to see her in a role where she’s not chasing after Colin Firth. The sets and costumes are not as glamorous as Mad Men, but they’re still impeccable and more realistic that way.
So no, “The Hour” is not Mad Men, and it’s not trying to be either, but that doesn’t mean that fans of Mad Men should dismiss it. It’s got its own story to tell, so if you’re interested in the period, go watch it! (Season 2 just started about a month ago, and I can’t wait to find out what follows last season’s tense finale.)