I wonder if the critics who dismissed The Hour as sub-par British version of Mad Men ever actually watched the program. There may be superficial similarities, but that is where the comparison ends. The second season of The Hour has just been released by BBC Home Entertainment in a two-DVD set titled The Hour 2. I believe it to be one of the finest British dramas on television.
For those who are unfamiliar with the show, The Hour is the title of a fictional BBC news program. It could be compared to 60 Minutes, although The Hour is set in the late ’50s. To be specific, The Hour 2 takes place in 1957. The three main characters’ lives are devoted to the weekly series. The two anchors are Hector Madden (Dominic West), his younger co-chair Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), and their female producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai). Their quest to break the biggest stories is a constant source of conflict. In the second season they discover a blackmail plot which has compromised government at the highest levels.
This is life and death stuff, and everyone is playing for keeps. The season opens with a scandalous accusation from one of the showgirls at the sleazy El Paradis club. The battered and bruised dancer Kiki Delaine (Hannah Tointon) comes forward with allegations that Hector had beaten her after a tryst, and he is arrested for it. Hector did not do it, but it is his word against hers, until a friend in the police department clears him. The friend in the department turns out to be the one who actually hurt the girl. Although the whole incident is swept under the rug, it sets the stage for the intense drama to follow.
Rafael Cilenti (Vincent Riotta) is the Italian owner of the El Paradis, and it becomes clear early on that he is behind everything. Cilenti specializes in setting “honey traps,” which is blackmail on a grand scale. The beautiful young women who dance at the club entice powerful men with a weakness for the flesh. The photographic evidence of their dalliances is then used against them to further Cilenti’s nefarious career.