BBC’s The Hour is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. The two-disc set contains all six episodes of the first series, which also recently aired in the States on BBC America. A second series has been commissioned, but this DVD does not say “Complete First Series” or anything to that effect on the packaging.
It’s 1956 when The Hour begins, and throughout series one, the story unfolds against the backdrop of the Suez Crisis. Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw, Criminal Justice, Layer Cake) and Bel Rowley (Romola Garai, The Crimson Petal and the White) are growing more and more frustrated with their jobs working on inane newsreels for BBC. A glimmer of hope shines, as they interview for Clarence Fendley (Anton Lesser, Primeval), who is putting together a more serious news program called The Hour. Bel is awarded the producer role, and Freddie is forced to settle, after much consideration, with riding the Home Affairs desk. But a chance encounter with an old friend (Vanessa Kirby, Love/Loss) draws Freddie into a much bigger story. Not to mention the whole team will soon become entangled in the Suez story.
It’s hard not to compare The Hour to Mad Men, as many have done, because of the time period. Even though The Hour takes place in 1956, it feels more like the 1960s, and some mistakes, such as 1960s telephones, contribute to that. Yet, overall, with the authentic period stage, and the manner of the performers, the effect is a good one. The tone is slower and darker than Mad Men, and the action more plot-driven than character-driven, so it’s certainly not a copy. As the hours unfold, the characters, a bit thin at first, become much better defined. As they get swept up in events, they begin to show their true colors. So it does start to resemble Mad Men slightly more, but it’s still its own beast, despite the surface similarities.
Freddie is drawn into a conspiracy plot by his aforementioned friend. The first clue, involving an academic murdered by a mysterious man (Burn Gorman, Torchwood) whom the academic sought to kill is pretty interesting. But Freddie, the main character in solving the plot, is abrasive and stubborn, which make him a little hard to like. He almost passes up a job at The Hour just because he can’t take the position he wants, in front of the camera. Never mind; he will get to keep working with Bel, whom he adores, and have the freedom to pursue the types of scoops he likes. Freddie is definitely his own worst enemy.
Bel is a much better character, daresay, the best one in The Hour. She is kind and tough. It’s a bit refreshing, though odd, that in 1956 Bel is treated just like any other professional, other than the fact that she isn’t allowed to gather in the brandy room after lunch. The impression is quickly given that Bel can handle her job, and will prove herself without making unnecessary waves.
Of course, this being a drama, Bel is also caught in a romantic triangle between Freddie and Hector (Dominic West, The Wire, 300). Yes, Bel has a boring banker boyfriend when The Hour begins, but only Freddie and Hector seem to actually engage her in a way that she likes.
Hector Madden is the playful anchor hired for The Hour. Hector’s first appearance on screen is loathsome in the way that he treats Bel, but once viewers realize he is simply messing with her, it’s hard not to be won over. Plus he has absolutely the right look for the role. The thing about Hector is, as he grows likeable, both to viewers and Bel, he begins to cheat on his wife. His reasons are complicated, but when doing something so mean to someone, can he ever truly be considered a good man?
Those three carry the series, but they aren’t alone on screen. A smattering of colorful supporting characters raise the overall quality of the series several notched. In particular Anna Chancellor (MI-5), Joshua McGuire, and Lisa Greenwood stand out. Which is why it is nice they all get to speak in the extras.
The features on this set are sparse, but valuable. Two featurettes, comprising approximately half an hour, go into the design of the series. Specific characters are discussed, and what drives them. It’s a look behind the scenes with the cast and producers that really explains just what they were trying to do. Overall, they succeed.
The Blu-ray version of The Hour is presented in 1080i High Definition, with a 16:9 picture ratio. The audio is Stereo 2.0 LPCM. What this means is, although the series is set long ago, it looks crisp, clean, and new with a perfect picture. Heavy Blu-ray users and spoiled Americans may miss the surround sound aspect, reduced merely to a two speaker system for this series. Because this isn’t a big action piece, that’s fine, but one does wish the newsroom scenes were a little more complete, from an audio standpoint. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by the busy work sounds, immersed in such an otherwise rich world?