A Great Second Hour

The second season of the BBC’s six-part drama, The Hour is a perfect example of how to make a good thing even better.  Creator and writer Abi Morgan has built on what worked in the first season, the relationship and chemistry between the three leads, the behind the scenes of broadcast journalism and a comment on 1950s Britain, and has added a more realistic overarching political story that connects better with the creation of The Hour, the most important 60 minutes of the week. 

As the show is set in the 1950s, The Hour keeps getting compared to Mad Men.  This is a trite and lightweight comparison based on the window dressing of men and women in a media industry smoking and drinking in a decade from the mid 20th century.  The structures of the shows are vastly different.  The Hour is s traditionally structured six part drama that is made every year in Britain. For example, White Heat, Case Histories, Call The Midwife, Misfits... the list goes on.  Mad Men just happens to be set in the 1960s in New York but it is about the creation and delusion of identity.  Each season is quite different to the one before and there is no guarantee the next episode is going to be structured like the one you just watched.    These comparisons should be left behind. 

The second season of The Hour continues the quality from the first season.  It is a well written, acted and directed.  The best way to watch this show is in one setting as it is great to sink into this world and become witness to what is happening.  This season centres around the ongoing investigation into corruption and vice in Soho, London, which gives us an insight into some of the very real social problems in the United Kingdom at the time.  Britain had spent 10 years rebuilding after the Second World War, there is a shift in working class London with the influx of immigrants from post-colonial countries, the nuclear arms race has started and the US begins to flex its new superpower status on the world stage. 

As in the first series, Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) is the producer, Hector Madden (Dominic West) is the face of the program, and Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) comes back from his travels around the world to be the co-presenter and chasers of stories.   I wondered how Abi Morgan was going to keep this trio’s interwoven relationship interesting and real, without dropping off into the soap opera abyss.  But she manages it with the help of three great actors.   However, the show is nearly stolen from beneath them by Peter Capaldi, joins the series as Randall Brown, the new Head of News and Current Affairs, and Anna Chancellor as veteran journalist Lix Storm.  Peter Capaldi and Anna Chancellor are two of the finest British actors and they prove it in these six episodes.  Their story is beautifully done.   

The only niggle I have with regards to character development is that Bel seems to overruled at every turn by either her new boss, Randall or told what to do by her best friend and subordinate, Freddie.  It is a bit undermining to try and say that this woman is a very good TV news producer, when she is not solving some of the problems or making some of the decisions for herself.  But don’t let that niggle stop you.  Put some time aside to watch the six episodes in one sitting and enjoy great drama made well.