Friends, Whishaw-lovers, connoisseurs of fine period dramas, join with me in a moment of mourning for The Hour, which the BBC yesterday confirmed would not be returning for a second series. I am personally quite upset, especially considering the point at which they left things.
I understand the need to streamline the BBC's output and evaluate what's doing well and what's not, but The Hour was just a cut above almost everything else at the moment. It's not the only favourite programme to go this year, Merlin having come to a close already, though at tleast that was planned from the start; there were always going to be five series. the Hour on the other hand had at least one more series left in it and the potential to carry on. So to show my admiration for it (though I have already blogged about how much I loved the first series) I just want to list a few reasons why I enjoyed it so much.
One of my main reasons for beginning to watch The Hour was that it starred Ben Whishaw (or as I then knew him, Sebastian from Brideshead Revisited) and Romola Garai (or as I then thought of her, the latest incarnation of Jane Austen's Emma). These two are still the central performances for me, but the rest of the regular cast has been equally superb, both as concerns actors I already knew of (Dominic West, Anna Chancellor) and ones who were introduced to me through the show (Joshua McGuire, Lisa Greenwood). Even when a character has just a few lines in an episode, everything is pitch-perfect in their delivery and body
Each series has had a plot arc spanning all six episodes, with each hour-long episode featuring a smaller story. What's impressive is that alongside the story they are investigating and the struggle to get the programme on air in time, there's also plenty of room for development of all our much-loved characters and their relationships to each other. At times it could seem like there were so many different things going on but the skillful handling of each plot and sub-plot just added to the sophisticated and stylish feel.
i just think that dramas set in the late 50s/early 60s are great because they are set around a time of change in many aspects of the world at large and also media outlets like television and magazines (see We'll Take Manhatten for a good retelling of how David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton revolutionised the world of fashion photography). I also think it adds the opportunity for atmospheric props like dial-phones and typewriters, evoking a time which is at once recent and distant.
The strong female roles
On the part of Bel, Romola Garai has said: "Bel is such a great character. She was a huge draw to me. It is quite hard to find those kinds of parts for women." This is very true. it can be difficult to find really strong and inspiring female characters in film and TV, especially when the setting is in the past. Not only is there Bel, making her way as a producer in a highly male-dominated world, there's also the fabulous trouser-wearing Lix, and Marnie, who reacts to the shoddy behaviour of her husband by building her own career. Plus there's Sissy, Kiki and several other great characters who provide opportunities for British actresses to play a role which isn't just as a love interest or similar. Furthermore, many of the team involved in making The hour are women, including its creator Abi Morgan and several of the directors. Anything which makes a step towards equalising the number of men and women producing shows at the BBC is good in my books.
I can't possibly do justice to how much I love these costumes. Each one tells the viewer so much about the character and how they feel at that moment. They are all of course fitting to the period, but each character adopts the styles in different ways. Bel obviously needs to look professional for her job, but she doesn't give in to any pressure to hide her personality in dull colours, often wearing green and red skirt suits or dresses. Marnie indulges fully in the feminine style of Christian Dior's 'new look' with alarmingly wide skirts and a small waist, which she then works in her favour when cultivating an image for her cookery show. And Lix, well, I love Lix so much. She simultaneously looks devastatingly glamorous and also like she doesn't care about anything, with masculine tailoring slung casually over her shoulders as she nonchalantly smokes a cigarette. But let's not forget about the gentlemen Freddie and Hector are completely opposite in both the way they report and the way they dress. Hector is traditional, reliable, embodies a spirit of responsibility (even when he is not quite so in his private life); Freddie is a little dishevelled, unconcerned with his appearance and dead set on getting the story. Everything is aesthetically pleasing while at the same time it doesn't retract from the often serious subject matter.
Basically everything is perfect. It works on so many levels and I'm miserable to see it go.
I'm once again indebted to I Capture the Period Pieces for all the beautiful images above