We’re now three weeks into The Hour and as the deafening buzz surrounding the launch dies away, the TV writing community seems to have universally agreed that it shows promise, lamented the fact that it’s not the British Mad Men, insisted that such comparisons were foolish in the first place, protested that they never made them and sloped off on holiday or to watch Sherlock again. I’m not sure that I agree with them though..
Assuming that the two shows are similar because they are set in similar decades is of course lazy. Chronology is irrelevant, but it’s no accident that two such richly character-driven dramas have been based around the birth of industries that we now take for granted. Indeed Mad Men and The Hour could also be compared to Boardwalk Empire, another series in which long-standing social norms are shifting and pioneering characters are inventing a brand new arena as they go along. It goes without saying that flux is at the root of any good drama, but the unique nature and lavish detail of these offerings makes them tangible and liberates them to create quietly intriguing characters. As such, to talk of how Mad Men and The Hour are based within a few years of each other is to miss the point.
After a promising but slightly unfocused start, Abi Morgan’s series seems to be coming together somewhat this week. The crossword-spy-murder sideline may have been maligned in some quarters, but thanks to some good developments and another excellent turn from the ominous Mr McCain, I’m warming up to it. Like many things in The Hour there is an almost subliminal level to its allure and as with Mad Men, it is picking up some momentum without noticeably changing pace. We thought we might be in for a session of newsroom politicking after last week’s final scene, but instead the writer managed to build intrigue while taking us off to the set of Downton Abbey. Besides, this whole conspiracy gives Freddy something to do while Hector and Bel canoodle – and after two hours of wistful glances and hand holding, canoodle they finally do this week..
Love triangles aside, this leading triumvirate are the aspect of The Hour that really gives the show its elan, but it’s Ben Wishaw’s Freddy that I’m really taken by. Ironically, his forthright refusal to mince words makes him an imponderable and beguiling factor. “Why are you lying to me” – “You did break into my house” – “On the contrary, I think he’s very interesting and I intend to listen to everything he says very carefully” etc. He has a knack of effortlessly disarming people with wit and finely-tuned observation, which wouldn’t go unnoticed at Sterling Cooper Draper Price..