Following on the heels of a successful and stylish first year, The Hour’s second season – and sadly its last – provides another thoroughly entertaining extended narrative that blends history and mystery.
Eighteen months have passed since the events of season one, and The Hour is now an established program for the BBC. Producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) still runs the show, while charismatic rogue Hector Madden (Dominic West) has become a national celebrity from his weekly telecasts. But change is in the offing: there’s a new news director, Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi), with ideas for taking the show in a new direction – not the least of which is to bring back intense journalist Freddy Lyon (Ben Whishaw) as a co-host. This of course stirs up the old love triangle, complicated even further by Freddy’s new French wife, Camille (Lizzie Brocheré).
Meanwhile Madden, corrupted by his fame, has taken to drink and adultery – behavior that further estranges him from his wife Marnie (Oona Chaplin). He’s also become a poaching target for competing station ITV, who want to put him on a rival news show, Uncovered. The central mystery kicks off when Madden’s fraternizing at a posh London nightclub gets him into hot water – but soon puts The Hour onto the scent of a major corruption scandal involving organized crime, the police, and the government.
I remember finding the first season of The Hour a little unforgiving, starting somewhat confusingly before developing into an accessible and engaging entertainment. Season two is more assured out of the gates, and while at times its scripts struck me as unsubtle, I also found them more likeable and rewarding: a slicker, faster-paced tangle of plots and subplots. Capaldi brings some welcome steel to the ensemble, along with a touching side story involving Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor). The conspiracy driving the action, set against a paranoid backdrop of nuclear armament in the early sixties, is perhaps too neat, but also quite satisfying. Its stylistic and thematic similarities to Mad Men continue; its take is more politically correct, perhaps, and probably more forgiving of the era than is likely. But I admired its approach to the material, its positive messages and the sense of creative family from the news team.
Alas, it ends like a show that had more plans, more things to say – even as its mysteries resolve, its characters find no closure. It’s unfortunate the show didn’t live on to tell more of its unique stories.