Thursday, 1 September 2011

Within The Hour

The nature of the show is not the kind that generate spoilers. Nevertheless I have marked the one paragraph that some may consider a spoiler clearly.The rest of the post have more thematic spoilers than anything else.

I try to avoid the news almost as much as I try to avoid reality, but unlike reality that comes and goes, news tends to follow me everywhere. Every now and then comes a drama about making news that captivates me, usually more than any piece of news ever does. It is in those dramas that television suddenly comes to life. 
The timing The Hour was quite fascinating. While avoiding the news I could still hear the echoes of the aftermath of the hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch. Phone hacking of the 50s seems, somehow, a lot more James Bond like. It might have to do with the espionage and political tension of those days. Present day phone hacking feels more like Big Brother, the next generation. 

Makes a Wire fan proud.
My main interest in The Hour, I admit, was Dominic West. I simply had to confirm to myself that he is indeed British, and that there is more to him than detective McNulty from The Wire, in which not only he talks with an American, Baltimore accent, but also does a very bad impersonation of a British accent. On top of that the trailer looked, and I mean visually, very much like my cup of coke (since I don’t really drink tea).

Dominic West turned out to be just the cherry on top of this most delicious selection of the truly brilliant actors. In my opinion the best on television today. The three lead characters Bel Rowley (Romala Garai) Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) and Hector Madden (Dominic West) are magnetic and kept me glued to the screen like only few actors can these days, and it didn't stop there. Isacc (Josh McGuire) Lix (Anna Chancellor) Clarence (Anton Lesser) McCain (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and even Marnie (Oona Chaplin) all gave fantastic performances, which made their characters stand out more than any side characters on a television show I have recently watched. 

What did I tell you? Brilliant acting!

The Hour was promoted and often referred to as the British version of Mad Men. Though I am a great fan of Mad Men I must protest. Apart from excessive smoking in the forbidden areas of our days, I see very little in common between the shows. Mad Men uses its characters and scenery to paint a picture of an era. The Hour on the other hand uses the era to paint a different picture of news making. While the hero of Mad Men is the 60s[1], the hero of The Hour is The Hour, the news show within the show. 

The Hour tells the behind the scene of a new BBC current affair program in 1956, called, yes you guessed it, The Hour. With the helping of romance, espionage and political tension, Abi Morgan’s greatest achievement in the creation of this show, is how news making itself becomes as emotional as the romance in the drama, as thrilling as the espionage and as gripping as the political tension. In six, one hour, episodes The Hour has portrayed and developed the show within the show as if it was one of the characters, if not the main character.

The Hour, the show within the show, represents beginnings of many things. Bel Rowley, for example, is one of the first female producers of a news show. More than any other type of television news has been predominantly ruled by men on and off camera. Disparate to Lix, the foreign affairs journalist who wears the trousers in more ways than one, Bel is emotional, even vulnerable, but not fragile and despite or perhaps because of those qualities she is very good at her job.

Other than having to prove herself as a woman in a men’s world Bel has to deal with the constant monitoring and interference of the government in what news she can present and how. This is of course the main problem of a news program in a channel that is virtually owned by the government. The entrance of political satire was not only sensitive politically, but also a new thing for a serious news program with very little sense of humour.

But perhaps the most exciting development of The Hour is the evolution of news presenting. Hector’s character is the type of news reader that represents a certain approach towards news presenting. It has been pointed out to me that Dominic West is far too  handsome and young looking in comparison with the older, father figure type of news presenter of the time. Though he may not be exactly what the 50s news presenters looked like, I think West has managed to portray the type very well. Though young Hector Madden looks authoritative and reassuring and most notably quite stiff. Hector is not a journalist and has very little interest in the news. What he is interested in most is his own career and so would be easy to manipulate.  But Hector, like all other characters, is not simply the poster boy of the news, and as the series progress so does his character develops.

I'll show you! News poster boy indeed.
Spoiler Alert:
The most exciting and brilliant development, however, is the change from the first major interview in the second episode, in which Hector interviews Mr. Hafiz, one of the leading supporters of the Egyptian president Naser, to the last interview lord Elms. Hector is very nervous before his interview of Mr. Hafiz. He is learning his lines much like an actor. Freddie, the investigative journalist guides him through it. For the last interview Hector clears the stage for Freddie, the journalist who was born to interview. This is the core move of the series, the dramatic change from an interviewer reading questions to one asking them. Like Hector, who knew Mr. Hafiz from a young age, so did Freddie grow up with Lord Elms, but differently to Hector, Freddie uses this to make the interview extraordinary.
End of spoiler

The Hour finished last week in the UK and started in the US. It has been announced that a second series has been commissioned.  I have always been quite emotional about my television programs, they are like dear friends to me. The Hour has introduced me to The Hour the only news program I ever cared about. 

I love you guys

[1] I intend to write a post about Mad Men closer to its return, in which I will elaborate on that.

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