THE HOUR Sunday 06 November, 2011

What’s that you say? A BBC drama that’s good? Yeah, I didn’t believe that either but lo and behold The Hour is good.

I normally shudder at the thought of watching any kind of drama on BBC 1 or BBC 2.  Not as bad as ITV (mainly by dint of not all being based around dead bodies in a quaint village) but still not great. They always seem to be a bit…lowest common denominator…a thriller is really only thrilling if your clever little hidden clues aren’t shouting at the viewer like a big fucking neon arrow every time the shifty janitor (you know, the one with the gimpy leg, the eyebrows, hairy palms, speech impediment and mental age of a child) appears on screen.

So that’s why I don’t watch much television. Imagine what a pleasant surprise The Hour was then. I caught ten minutes of the second episode (having already dismissed it as “quick let’s make something, anything, as long as it’s Mad Men in Britain”), cut myself a large slice of humble crumble, switched it off and dashed to iPlayer.

The Hour is set around the workings of a fictional current affairs television programme during the time of real historic events (of 1956 I think). What’s instantly noticeable is that this is television that, much more than most, allows the viewer space to form opinions. Yes, we are still aware of who is good an who wrong but this awareness is informed more by there actions than any crass phrenological stereotyping (he’s got a funny eye, I bet he has to wee sitting down when there’s a full moon…etc).

I think perhaps some viewers may find it all a little dull and too slow. These are presumably the same people that thought The Wire was boring. We all know, of course, that these individuals are not real people and don’t deserve to watch any television. The fact of the matter is that he pacing of this series is one of it’s major delights. Like most good things it starts of slowly and slowly builds to a fizzing and tense climax (yep, I meant like sex). The opening episodes allow us to come to know the characters, the situation and all the while we are subtly being given important plot information.

It helps that the cast are all more than able and widely turn in some excellent performances. Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw make an excellent double act and their portrayal of a messy complicated friendship is rewarding and convincing. Dominic West (McNulty to you and I, who seems to be in everything…even the latest Johnny English thing!!!) is a little uncomfortable to watch at times but I think that’s because I’m so used to seeing his terrible Baltimore accent.  Having said that his accent (which may very well be his own) doesn’t seem too convincing here either.  Diction aside though his performance is strong.

These performances would be nothing without wonderful writing and direction though. Not to mention the art direction. I’m not an expert on what the 1950s looked like but I had little problem in going along with the lie.

Threaded with wonderful dialogue and gorgeous to look at The Hour is an all too brief reminder of why I used to love BBC so much. More programmes made with this level of maturity and complexity would be a rather nice treat.


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  • brown says:

    This currently has the honour to be the ONLY drama I have watched on the BBC in the last ten years and not vomited. I am actually hooked on this and feel sad that I am up to episode 5 as there are only 6 episodes in total. I could happily live in this world for a bit longer .

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