Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Hour Cometh to its End

It has been a soap-opera for the youthful literati, but I want a spin-off…

What at first glance looked like a stylish drama, turned out to be a well-shot frolic. Yes there was a smattering of gender politics and an interesting hum of history sounding dimly in the background, but sod them. Give me illicit affairs in beautiful country houses and absurd cold war spy plots.

My initial review of The Hour didn’t focus much on the hokum of this show. I have to say that I had been seduced by its style and its apparent pretensions toward great drama. Once I realised that the show was going to pursue a spy intrigue saga, I waved goodbye to my hopes of a subtle series about a revolution in television news, and settled in for the ride.

As it was, the series became very popular amongst the more arty of my friends, but what they really seemed to like was that it was a soap-opera, with great acting and high production values. The episode which caused the most excitement was one where not much happened, but ended with an unexpected sexual liaison. The delight was palpable.

The Hour has been one of those shows which have all the allure of the high-brow, with an acceptable level of Footballer’s Wives salaciousness making up most of the content. It’s hard to resist.

And there’s more to get your teeth into. The real hallmark of the series has been fine acting, beautifully framed. Ben Whishaw is one of the nation’s finest young actors, but the welcome surprise of this series has been Romola Garai’s fine performance as Bel. Besides them, Dominic West has reasserted his credentials as an actor who can do no wrong, whilst Anna Chancellor and Julian Rhind-Tutt have been excellent.

However, for my money, the real star of this series is Anton Lesser as Clarence, the long-suffering but ambitious director of news whose brainchild the eponymous programme is. Going into the last episode, his character remains intriguing, and I defy anybody not to like him or not to admire Lesser’s subtlety and quiet power on screen.

Now at last, we come to the end of The Hour, and there are so many questions to be answered. How will the criss-crossing sexual tensions resolve themselves? Is there a Russian spy in our midst? If so, who is it? And why are they at some grotty little outpost for the Beeb? What use is that? And, of course, why did creepy Mr Kish bump off that dotty debutante, aside from the fact that she was really irritating?

All, we hope, shall be revealed, but as the show draws to a close, I find that I can’t quite get rid of the hopes I held out for at the start. I’m interested in the news show and in the wider revolution in television across the late fifties and sixties. I’m interested in the gender politics. I’m very interested in the history. I love these actors. I love the quality with which this programme has been made.
Dear BBC, is there no chance you can make a drama with all of those attributes about all of those themes?

The Hour's final episode is on BBC Two, Tuesday at 9pm

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