Judge Clark Douglas once delivered a hard-hitting report on long lines at Dunkin' Donuts.
Our review of The Hour (Blu-ray), published September 27th, 2011, is also available.
"Let me hear your tick, Ms. Rowley."
The general consensus among viewers of Abi Morgan's period drama The Hour is that the second season is a considerable improvement on the first. I have to disagree with that assessment, if only because I don't wish to praise this very fine season of television by slighting its very fine predecessor. The two seasons are different, however, as each explores a different genre while keeping the "1950s news team" concept at its core. While the first season offered a suspenseful Cold War spy saga, the second season offers up a seedy crime drama. In other words, if the first season is John le Carre, the second season is Dashiell Hammett. The craftsmanship is strong in both, but which one you prefer may be a matter of taste.
Our story begins as intrepid reporter Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) returns to The Hour; arguably the classiest and most substantial news program in Great Britain. Ah, but there are a couple of surprises: Freddie has been promoted to co-host of the program and he's gotten married to a charming French girl named Camille (Lizzie Brochere, American Horror Story: Asylum). The former news is rather upsetting to popular news personality Hector Madden (Dominic West, The Wire), while the latter announcement quietly wounds producer Bel Rowley (Romala Garai, Atonement). Regardless, they have a show to run and stories to uncover.
Things take a strange and personal turn rather quickly when Hector is accused of beating a showgirl (Hannah Tointon, The Children) who works at a popular local nightclub. Hector insists that the charges aren't true, but who could possibly be attempting to frame him? Over time, Bel, Hector and Freddie begin to uncover a vast conspiracy involving the nightclub's unsavory owner Raphael Cilenti (Vincent Riotta, The Dark Knight).
The pace is a little faster and the tone is just a shade pulpier, but The Hour remains an excellent, ambitious television program. The crime story has some impressive moments, but as in the first season, the show is at its strongest when it focuses on the process of putting a news program together. The third and sixth episodes in particular climax with some hard-hitting news broadcasts that prove edge-of-your-seat riveting. They're the sort of moments Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom kept striving for and missing during its first season, and that's largely because Morgan recognizes the value of carefully building to these moments rather than trying to stack one classic scene on top of another.
The Hour is blessed with a tremendous cast, topped by Ben Whishaw's splendid work as Freddie. The character gets to evolve a little bit this season; there's a certain world-weariness that now accompanies his smarmy impetuousness. Dominic West really gets to shine in this second season, revealing new shades of Hector as the character begins to reveal some actual journalistic instinct beneath the grinning facade. Romala Garai's Bel remains the eye of the storm; struggling to maintain some semblance of order amidst all of the personal and professional chaos. The most impressive new addition is Peter Capaldi (In the Loop) as Randall Brown, the new head honcho at The Hour. Capaldi's central plot strand (involving a secret from his past) never really connects with the rest of the narrative in a substantial way, but it's an effective storyline regardless. The actor has a scene during the final episode of the season that floored me. It's a much quieter turn than his iconic performance as Malcolm Tucker on The Thick of It, but then almost every performance is much quieter than that.
Unfortunately, there's a very distinct possibility that this may be the last we'll see of the show. The second season ratings were underwhelming and the BBC still hasn't made any sort of announcement one way or the other as of the writing of this review. The thing that really hurts is that the season wraps up on something of a cliffhanger—though the core mystery is resolved, a pretty significant part of the show is left in limbo. That's by no means a suggestion that you should avoid this excellent season of television, but it hardly feels like a definitive ending. Fingers crossed.
The DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is stellar, offering strong detail throughout. However, I'd strongly urge those with Blu-ray players to check out the hi-def version of the show, as the rich period design is best appreciated in that format. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is perfectly adequate, offering a nice balance between the snazzy score and the dialogue. The only supplement included is a behind-the-scenes featurette (be warned: don't watch this until you're done with the season, as the season's ending is among the topics of discussion).
The Hour 2 is a strong follow-up to the first series. Here's hoping this isn't the end of the line.
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Studio: BBC Video
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