When I sat down to watch the DVD set of the first season of the BBC’s period drama The Hour, I had one thought in my head: Mad Men, U.K.-style. Everything I’d read about The Hour had likened it to Mad Men because they are both set in similar time periods — The Hour in the 1950s, Mad Men in the 1960s — both prominently feature workplaces where people spend an inordinate amount of time, and there are cheating husbands alongside strong, intelligent women characters.
Except The Hour is in England and focuses on a single TV news program, called The Hour, while Mad Men is in the United States and focuses on a single advertising agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Oh, and The Hour has murder and spies, which make up for the lack of Don Draper skulking around.
After the first hour of The Hour, I no longer had Mad Men on the brain. Instead, I started making analogies between this drama about the makings of the fictional news show and the 2005 film Good Night and Good Luck, set in 1950s New York City and focused on CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow’s politically edgy broadcasts which took on U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hunt for communists. The tension on the set of The Hour over how it covered politically sensitive stories, particularly during the season one finale, was riveting and tense, just as it had been in the based-on-a-true-story movie when Murrow nailed McCarthy for baseless witch hunting.
The Hour aptly and smartly addressed issues of governmental censorship, and quandaries such as whether it’s patriotic to criticize one’s government during a military action or to question whether those acting on behalf of one’s country are telling the truth about what’s going on … analogies that still resonate today, even though modern day TV newsrooms are no longer clogged with cigarette smoke or populated by the tinny sounds of typewriter keys.
Through the character of Bel Rowley, a late twentysomething producer of the brand new BBC hour-long show, The Hour paints a portrait of a hard working career woman bearing up under sexist put-downs — though none as scathing and nasty as the ones uttered by the Mad Men crew a decade later. Rowley, who gets involved with the show’s married anchorman, Hector Madden, has decided she wants nothing more than to lead a different life than her mother, now divorced, jobless and largely without any money.
Rowley’s arrogant, idealistic best friend Freddie Lyon — who carries an open, smoldering flame for Rowley — is the unrepentant youthful voice of righteousness as he longs to be taken seriously and for others to see the world as keenly as he does from his perch as The Hour’s home affairs correspondent. For the first season, when not pining after Rowley, Lyon chases down the real story behind the murder of a family friend of his and, in the process, uncovers all things espionage which puts his life in danger, and places The Hour in a precarious position with the British government when he wants to expose government secrets he’s learned.
Many of the characters in this dense, yet compelling drama are fascinating, but we don’t get to learn all that much about what makes many of the supporting characters tick as the first season was only six episodes long. Perhaps another six hours would’ve given viewers time to get to know the other characters, particularly savvy war correspondent Lix Storm, who I think could drink the Mad Men guys under the table. But given that The Hour has been renewed for a second season, I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll be delving more into these secondary folks in the coming episodes.
As for the DVD Extras for the first season, they were pretty skimpy, though I enjoyed the “Behind the Scenes” look at the creation of the program and was only mildly interested in the set design video about what went into pulling together the show’s look.
This review is based on a complimentary copy, provided to CliqueClack, solely for the purpose of this review.