After Mad Men‘s success and social impact, twentieth century TV period dramas have become all the rage, from ABC’s Pan Am to NBC’s recently debuted and promptly canceled The Playboy Club. BBC is getting in on the action as well, having premiered The Hour in July. The show already has been renewed for a second season, and the first one recently arrived on Blu-ray.
Most of the recent period shows have been set in the U.S. and have presented a familiar historical landscape to American audiences. The Hour is an especially interesting show for me that breaks away from the crowd, purely because it’s set in London, and I don’t have a lot of reference points for 1950s England. British social mores and issues of that period differ from American issues of the same time period, and, though The Hour obviously is fictional, I feel like I’m getting a little education with my entertainment.
The series opens in 1956 as the BBC is launching their new television news program, The Hour. The government censors and guides most TV content, but the team behind The Hour seeks to present something new and fresh by reporting an unvarnished and accurate depiction of the world. The overseeing producer controversially hires a woman, Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) as the producer of the new show, and she brings her friend and colleague Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) on board. The third player in The Hour‘s main trio is the charismatic lead anchorman, Hector Madden (Dominic West). The six episodes of the first season follow Bel and her gents as they stake their claim in the growing landscape of TV news as the turmoil of the Cold War invades their work and their lives.
The Hour really feels like two shows in one. The first is a behind the scenes look at television journalism in 1950s England, complete with corporate politics and governmental bureaucracy getting in the way of real reporting. The second show is something darker, giving us a glimpse into a Cold War world of espionage and murder that hides just below the proper veneer of British culture and aristocracy. In this duality, as well as in the show’s slow and deliberate pacing, The Hour occasionally feels reminiscent of AMC’s short lived spy drama Rubicon. Unlike Rubicon, however, The Hour is entirely accessible and always has a forward motion. Though the pacing may be slow, there’s always a point to what is happening in each episode, and there’s always a lingering danger, often thanks to Burn Gorman’s shadowy assassin, Thomas Kish.
The new Blu-ray set collects all six episodes on two discs, and it also packs in several bonus featurettes, including casting and set design pieces, as well as a general behind the scenes featurette. The Hour will be getting a second season, but this first run feels very satisfying on its own as a miniseries. Fans of period dramas and Cold War intrigue will want to check this show out, as will connoisseurs of good British television.