BBC America drew sadly small audiences for the first season of the very strong miniseries “The Hour” last year, but they are showing season two this fall, and I strongly urge you to catch up on DVD.
Set in 1956, the drama is about a group of young journalists working for the BBC who are trying to find a less stodgy way of using their medium to report the news.
Dominic West (of “The Wire”) plays Hector Madden, the anchorman (in British parlance, “the presenter”) of an experimental prime time news program called “The Hour” which is designed to dig deeper into major breaking stories and also produce investigative pieces.
Romola Garai is Bel Rowley, the producer of the new show. She’s an ambitious woman who really has two jobs in 1950s England — doing high level work for her employer and proving herself in a male-dominated profession 15 years before the feminist revolution began to change things.
(In a scene in the first episode, a BBC official mistakes Bel for a secretary and then comments on her use of “maternal instincts” on the job.)
Rising star Ben Whishaw (“Q” in the new James Bond film) plays Freddie Lyon, a maverick journalist who wants the top job on “The Hour” but has to be content with street-reporting and helping Hector do his interviews (the relationship between Freddie and Hector is reminiscent of the roles Albert Brooks and William Hurt played in “Broadcast News”).
The creator of “The Hour” — Abi Morgan — has borrowed the retro pop culture and sexual politics of “Mad Men” to give the show a very sly visual humor. It’s amusing to see how much smoking and drinking these folks can do without any visible side effects.
Suspense is added to the mix through a major subplot involving the mysterious murder of a professor who seems to be tied into some sort of international espionage plot. By episode two we see that the man who killed the professor has taken a job with the BBC as an Arabic and Egyptian translator during the Suez Canal crisis.
The three leads are terrific, the various plot threads will keep you glued to the tube, and the period background is lush and detailed.