Random Commentary on The Hour

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is a new British drama on BBC America this fall called “The Hour.” It’s about the BBC’s news hour in the 1950s, Cold War espionage and intrigue, government conspiracies and cover-ups, suspense and mystery with a dash of romance.

The story centers around Bel, who is the new female producer of the brand new BBC news program, “The Hour;” Freddie, who is Bel’s good friend and one of the journalists, but who also has a knack for getting the very best stories that the public wants to know; and Hector, the charming anchor who has had the world (apparently) on a silver platter, including his lovely wife, but seems almost disenchanted with the whole thing. You can imagine the predictable love triangle, I’m sure, but the rest is really beyond what I can figure. Here are my thoughts so far. Spoilers, if you can’t tell!

  • Trust no one. This seems to be a recurring theme anyway, but this show demonstrates again and again that even though there are people you instinctively shy from trusting, the secretary down the hall might be a problem, too. Yes, know about the creepy guy in the bowler hat who is an assassin and now working in the newsroom as a translator for the foreign affairs desk, but we also see the receptionist’s father messing with the phone lines.
  • Speaking of the creepy assassin guy, I can’t decide if I think he’s giving correct translations to the news staff. The context is the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, and the information they are getting sounds about right… but by depending on one translator he could be skewing it.
  • The secretary is bubbly and flirty and 19, but it really bothers me when her father turns up and starts “adding” phone lines. Bel’s phone has been ringing and then when she answers there’s no one on the other end, and now a stranger is under her desk playing with the wiring. I know I’m on the lookout for conspiracy, but this seems like a red flag to me.
  • Hector, the anchor, has access to all the high rollers– the lords, the MPs, the foreign dignitaries– but I get the feeling he’s not in their league. He can get the BBC team through the door, but then he’s asking the questions, too.
  • We are supposed to be both charmed by and distrustful of Hector, not only because he moves in the circles of the high and mighty, but because he doesn’t seem all that attached to his (by all appearances) very nice wife.
  • Then again, being in the high circles doesn’t mean you’re in the conspiracy, and being at the bottom doesn’t automatically exclude you.
  • Freddie is clearly onto a big story and I’m wondering how long this show can go without him being killed as he discovers more and more information.

I have read criticism of the show that it’s not “authentic” or that it’s got all the details wrong, but I think the person who wrote it is missing the point of the show. The show isn’t about the day to day life of a news room, the show is about espionage and it is trying to capture the feel of an era more than to be historically accurate. I don’t think the show (or any show, except a documentary) sets out to be 100% historically accurate. Some things must be done to evoke the time and place and the emotions tied to it so that the audience will buy into your premise and follow you down the rabbit hole. (This interview with the writer expresses the combination of history and storytelling.)

I have to say the first episode was a little overwhelming to me, but by the end of the second episode I was literally on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what was next. This wasn’t because it was fast paced or lots of action, but because of the wonderful tension created by the situations and because what will happen if someone sees what Freddie is reading/watching/hearing??

At any rate, I recommend watching it. There are only 6 episodes (of which we’ve seen two), but I imagine BBC America will show them several times.

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