August 24th, 2011

life on mars

The Hour

Has anyone else bothered to watch every episode of The Hour? After all the hype, I was disappointed by the first episode but decided to stick with it. Private Eye’s ‘Remote Controller’ wrote a couple of issues ago that the series was doomed by being billed as a British Mad Men. I haven’t seen Mad Men to compare but I have to say that dressing up Romola Garai and Oona Chaplin in 1950s frocks can’t in itself make a good series, even if La Redoute have been using this picture

to point up next season’s fashion trends!

The problem for me was trying to work out just what the programme was supposed to be about. A history of BBC journalism? A study of journalism, censorship and propaganda? Or a conspiracy theory murder mystery, complete with spies? At the end of the last episode I was as confused about this as when I started watching. The Hour is a television news magazine programme in 1956, so with a background of the Suez crisis and the Hungarian uprising. The new producer, Bel, (Romola Garai) is prepared to take risks with what is shown, egged on by brilliant, prickly Freddie (Ben Whishaw). To complicate matters, Bel starts an affair with star presenter Hector (Dominic West) which I found unbelievable on the spurious grounds that I personally found him unattractive. Freddie complicates all issues by having a personal agenda: to find out who murdered Ruth Elms, daughter of the grand family he was evacuated with in the war, and why. This is where MI6 comes in, in case you’re wondering. Still with me? Last night’s dénouement involved the team ignoring directions from above, the plug being pulled and Bel getting the sack.

Television suddenly loves the 1950s. The clothes I’ve already mentioned. The programmes were shot in appropriately muted colours and you couldn’t fault the cars, spectacles and Fairisle pullovers. But there’s no point in getting all that right and then using linguistic anachronisms like ‘I’ll come round to yours’, which I found very irritating. Anna Chancellor’s character, Lix, was far more my idea of a hard-bitten woman journalist than Bel, who never really convinced as a tough producer, no matter how often she barked out orders. The star for me was Anton Lesser as Clarence, Bel’s boss. He appears so often in cameo character roles and in this series he was almost the only actor who didn’t look as if he’d been at the dressing up box; he was utterly convincing and, as it turned out, the most interesting character of the lot.