The Hour, Series 2, BBC Two | TV reviews, news & interviews
The Hour, Series 2, BBC Two
The second series of Abi Morgan's 1950s TV news drama returns better than ever
The first rule of temptation is to yield to it slowly, says a sozzled roué surrounded by semi-clad lovelies, it’s much more fun that way… The Hour is back and, the silly conspiracy strand sewn up at the end of the first series, better than ever.
The BBC’s Lime Grove studios were never going to be a match for Madison Avenue but television news with its endless deadlines is far more exciting than advertising. If Abi Morgan’s retro-soap can’t be Mad Men it doesn’t lack bad men: Hector Madden, the alcoholic news anchor (Dominic West oozing sleazy charm); Angus McCain, a shifty Whitehall mandarin (Julian Rhind-Tutt riven and tormented by homosexuality); and – hurrah! – Randall Brown, the new head of news (Peter Capaldi, pictured below, at his most sepulchral) who may just turn out to be one of the good guys.
Brown – who lines up drawing pins on notice boards – has been brought in by the top brass to add edge and bite to Auntie’s flagship news programme – those were the days my friends – something which ITV’s new show, Uncovered, has in spades. His first major move is to bring back Freddie Lyon (the winsome Ben Whishaw) to co-host the show with Madden. Needless to say, the drunken divo doesn’t like it and allows himself to be wooed by ITV.
Lyon wastes no time in stealing Madden’s scoop about Super Mac’s government using fear of nuclear annihilation to justify swingeing cuts to the police budget. The crime rate has risen by 30%; 176 people were murdered last year. The stench of decay and decline – the smell of naughty folk having a good time – hangs over Soho where club owners, pimps and pornographers are in cahoots with the cops.
Director Sandra Goldbacher makes much of the contrast between the utilitarian offices of Lime Grove and the bright lights of the West End. The period music, the dancing girls and oceans of champagne prove very tempting – and not just to Madden whose maddened stay-at-home wife takes out her frustration by baking at midnight. When one of Madden’s pick-ups is beaten up the stage is thus set for a genuinely newsworthy scandal.
The female members of the cast are the main attraction: not just their frocks and facial furniture but the way they react to the chauvinists who surround them. Romola Garai as producer Bel Rowley has a face that could launch a thousand clips. She shows fury when Brown undermines her authority but heartbreaking confusion and shock when she learns by chance that Lyon – for whom she carries a torch – has married a sexy mademoiselle in his absence. Meanwhile, Anna Chancellor, pictured above left, as newshound Lix Storm has a voice that makes your stomach flip with desire.
The historic detail is laid on with a trowel: Laika is shot into space to face a lonely death; Mario Lanza is in town; Dior is dead; and postcodes are coming. Drinks trays boast bottles of Martini. This certainly could not be any time anywhere.
Brown believes that the viewer must “feel the tingle” while watching The Hour. This one sure did.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
24 hours in the king of Pop Art's shoes
Panorama of Pop art from Alastair Sooke ahead of the Tate Modern show
Cogent narrative of the pioneering achievements of ancient Athens
Notes on an 18th-century scandal, with visuals dominating over character
Attempt to turn tweets into telly had too much to live up to
Charles Manson and the squalid underbelly of the hippie dream
Details of the Manhattan Project abound, to the exclusion of its wider implications
A bleak vision of a haunted dystopia in a brand new light entertainment show
Historian's voyage around the Himalyan prince creates disorientation
From cloakroom attendant at The Cavern club to national treasure
Pungent Victorian crime drama returns to network television
The elaborate lives and loves of the exhaustingly self-obsessed Bloomsbury Group