Timing for the BBC’s new television news-based drama could hardly have been more apposite. With the recent News Of The World and Rupert Murdoch debacle raging on, The Hour features collusion between the press and the police (and money changing hands) with the need of the journalists (and their bosses) paramount.
Idealistic TV journo Freddie Lyon, played by Ben Whishaw (Criminal Justice), believes in actual news (challenging the “No coloureds, no Irish” rules that still exist in 1956 London) as opposed to the announcements of society weddings he currently films and reports on.
His chum Bel Rowley (The Crimson Petal And The White‘s Romola Garai) has been invited to produce a new weekly current affairs show called ‘The Hour’, but Freddie’s attitude seems to be prohibiting his growth within the rigid BBC. Bel teams up with presenter Hector Madden (The Wire‘s Dominic West) but manages to persuade her bosses to take a chance on her male friend.
Running alongside are the sub-plots of a murdered academic and Freddie’s old childhood friend, Ruth Elms (newcomer Vanessa Kirby). She is in possession of knowledge regarding his death, and more besides, urging Freddie to investigate as she fears for her own life.
The two sub-plots (though really they are one and the same) work at odds with the main set up of the news show. The lightness and brevity is juxtaposed with the grittier and unseemly events involving the murder (ignored by the press) and Elms. But it’s here we find Freddie paying off the police for information and the fear of unseen powers.
Abi Morgan (Brick Lane) has presented a well-trod story with added murder and conspiracy, but the writer’s fine efforts are somewhat underscored by the rather unlikable characters. That’s not to criticise the actors, who all do a stout job, but their roles are not sympathetic and you’ll find it difficult to engage with their various problems.
The issues they face are distanced and unrelatable. None of the characters are of a type you can root for, coming off as spoiled and petulant (particularly Freddie). Friendship seems to be high on the show’s priorities but actual care and love here is presented in a clinical fashion (very British, if we can use such a reductive cliché). Bel and Freddie’s insistence on calling each other “Moneypenny” and “James” (from the 007 films, or books as they would have been in ’56) does not warrant any familial feelings and is irritating more than charming.
There’s much to enjoy and admire here, but the unbridled cynicism and lack of warmth may put some viewers off. It certainly has potential but we imagine, for some, sixty minutes is about as much of The Hour as is palatable.
Airs at 9pm on Tuesday 19th July 2011 on BBC Two.