The Hour: First Episode *Spoiler Free* Review

THE HOUR: Expected TX July (Unconfirmed)

There have been whisperings, rumours and an unholy amount of anticipation surrounding The Hour since it was billed as “the British answer to Mad Men” last autumn, so we jumped at the chance to attend an exclusive screening of episode one at BAFTA last night. Suffice to say, with award-winning writer Abi Morgan behind the project coupled with a cast that includes The Wire‘s Dominic West, BBC2 dramas in-house leading lady Romola Garai (Crimson Petal..) and the very talented Ben Whishaw, we weren’t disappointed.

The opening episode of this six-part series – which is expected to hit screens in July – paints a picture of the corporation at the birth of television news in the 1950s. This was a time when Britain was still recovering from the Second World War, old attitudes were being questioned and women had to choose between marriage and their careers (quite literally, as only single woman were expected to work.) We’re assured that the main course will be set to the background of the imminent Suez Crisis, but in this introduction, director Coky Giedroyc carefully pulls the cast together under the umbrella of a brand new TV News programme: The Hour.

As in the show’s much-vaunted American counterpart, the whisky and cigarettes flow, the whole production is immersed in social history and the characters range from the tragically beautiful to the charismatically capable, but unlike Mad Men, The Hour has something quite sinister going on as well. This first episode introduces a solidly macabre air to proceedings and viewers should probably be prepared for something closer to the ‘thriller’ genre than AMC’s languid masterpiece. There’s a vicious little murder in the opening scenes and a malevolent aura hangs in the background for much of this first hour.

Fresh from the mean streets of Victorian London, Romola Garai is excellent as the confident young TV producer Belle (thought to be very loosely based upon the late Grace Wyndham Goldie) and West is equally adept as the show’s new host, but Ben Whishaw steals the show in this first episode. Visually he looks like a young and much-dieted Dougray Scott, but he hogs the audience’s perspective initially as the enigmatic and disillusioned reporter with a vision of what TV News could be “This needs to be the hour that you can’t afford to miss!” We smell a love-triangle in the offing..

Filmed for the most part at Hornsey Town Hall, there is an claustrophobic atmosphere to the whole piece and writer Abi Morgan (who has been working on Meryl Streep’s Thatcher biopic) spoke of how ‘irresistible’ the 50s were as a period in British and world history. Episode one serves as a fine introduction to this multi-layered story, which is as engaging as it is rich. We are told that although the Suez Canal Crisis will have ended by the end of this series, the character arcs will not have been resolved. Series two here we come..