Riveting BBC Media Drama ‘The Hour’ Premieres This Weekend on Ovation
When The Hour first aired on the BBC in July of 2011, the international media landscape was really, radically different. Twitter, launched in 2006, had only begun to be a genuine force in the delivery of digital information – and the insidious infestation of “fake news” Facebook trolls was (sort of) far in the future. Donald Trump was merely an unscrupulous “businessman” and insufferable reality TV show host.
The Hour – which premieres in the US on Ovation this Saturday, July 17 – was however about a time when news journalism was adamant about the gravitas of its profession, on matter how insane the behind the scenes goings on might be. Set in a BBC newsroom (how meta) in the 1950s, it follows Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw, who we’ve loved since Brideshead Revisited, and who had just begun his run as Q in the 2010 Bond film Skyfall), Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) and Hector Madden (Dominic West), three reporters for a new type of weekly affairs show called, of course, The Hour. Their shambolic personal lives play out against the backdrop of Soviet nuclear threats and the Suez Canal conflict, the latter on which they plan to air a quite controversial episode – and have to consider the very sort of consequences that no longer matter in the least.
But there’s a revealing scene where Bel intently describes the volatile Freddie’s vision of telling a story, and it reminds of just how utterly different the very idea of the news was back then. “He will be somewhere away from all the other journalists, talking to the last person that should matter. But that is the story that will matter most to ordinary people.” Ordinary people who, of course, once expected and mostly got the truth.
The period detailing, down to the clothes, the cigarettes, the music, the sepia toned aesthetic, makes for a genuinely transportive experience. And the performances are riveting, especially Whishaw and Rowley, whose characters strike up a precarious but genuinely convincing romance. Yet what The Hour accomplishes most is to stir a poignant nostalgia for a time when everything, including the way we learned about the world around us, wasn’t controlled by a bloody set of algorithms.
Sadly, the story is frozen in its time – as technology has successfully assured that we will never see the likes of Freddie ever again.