Mon 15 Aug 2011
THE HOUR: Episode One. BBC 2 Production. Six part series, 19 July through 23 August 2011. Created and Written by Abi Morgan. Directed by Coky Giedraye. Produced by Ruth Kenley-Letts. Cast: Ben Whishaw as Freddie Lyon, Romola Garai as Bel Rowley, Dominic West as Hector Madden, Vanessa Kirby as Ruth Elias, Anna Chancellor as Lix Storm.
Available on BBCA starting August 17, 2011, as part of the hour-long block called “Dramaville,” hosted by Idris Elba (Luther). The Hour is also available for download at the usual places. Episode one is available now, for free.
It is June 1956. The government has a tight stranglehold on the press, but it is the time of the Cold War and events are about to explode.
A frustrated Freddie Lyons works in the BBC newsreel division where his desire to do “real” news is constantly suppressed. He has a habit of making everyone uncomfortable with his obnoxious behavior, as well as his ability to find news that makes those in power very nervous.
There are plans to develop a new BBC TV news magazine called “The Hour.” Freddie feels betrayed when the position he wanted of Producer goes to his best friend Bel. He is shocked, after all she is just a woman.
Despite the constant sniping and meanness between Freddie and Bel, she fights to get the jerk a job with the new news magazine. Of course, as with any such relationship, everyone but Freddie and Bel realize the two are meant for each other.
As the development of “The Hour” continues and we meet each of the characters, a childhood friend of Freddie’s contacts him. Ruth tells Freddie there is more to the death of a college Professor, who was her secret lover. She warns him about “Them,” that England is no longer a “democracy,” and how she would be killed if “they” knew she had talked to a powerless employee of the BBC.
The production values, the costumes, music, lighting, sets and locations, are of the high quality one has come to expect from British television. The direction was serviceable, but nothing could have saved this episode from the script, a script that was predictable and drowning in cliches.
The cast tried their best to overcome their one dimensional characters:
Freddie, the he is so brilliant we can not survive without him hero. Bel, the woman determined to succeed in a man’s world and fears any personal commitment so she sleeps with married men. Hector, the handsome married anchorman who is attracted to Bel. Liz Storm, the veteran reporter who drinks too much and is there to share old stories and wise advice. The interchangeable white men in power.
The script dooms any possible attempt to make the story interesting. The pace is slow to build suspense, but there is little suspense because we have no reason to care about any of these characters. The script is full of twists and clues that creak with age and overuse, such as the camera intercutting between Ruth dancing with her fiance and the killing of her lover, the references to crossword puzzles, and the ending of this episode that will surprise no one.
Add annoying bits such as Freddie calling Bel, “Miss Moneypenny” and the heavy handed handling of the era’s sexism and racism, and any hope for future episodes is nearly crushed.