"The Hour" certainly represents the best in Television, British or otherwise. A first-rate thriller that combines politics and espionage, "The Hour" kept me on the edge of my seat for every episode (which, happily, last longer than sixty minutes). Furthermore, the series is outstanding not only in its acting, costumes, and settings, but also in its writing. The characters are surprisingly well-developed, far more than I've come to expect in this genre of television drama, in which characters tend to be stereotypical, if not conventional.
The acting, is, as one might expect from a BBC series, superb, not only the leading players, but also the minor characters, including Tim Piggot-Smith and Juliet Stevenson, as the secretive Lord and Lady Elms; Anna Chancellor, as an almost burnt-out foreign correspondent; Oona Chaplin, as the faithful wife of the philandering news anchor; and Julian Rhind-Tutt, as a slippery special aid to Prime Minister Anthony Eden. I was particularly moved, however, by the performance of Anton Lesser, as Clarence, the chief producer, whose very career hangs on the success or failure of "The Hour," a ground-breaking live BBC television news show, which cannot fail to rattle cages, both at the BBC and at Westminster.
One of the factors that makes the series so convincing is the attention to detail as far as the costumes and the settings are concerned. In fact, watching the series took me right back to the 'fifties, jogging my memories about wearing pencil-line wool skirts and cashmere twinsets by day, and buoyant ballerina skirts by night. The scenario of the Suez Crisis and the Russians in Hungary similarly conjured up crystal-clear images, some delightful, others thrilling, not to say terrifying: I was in Holland, my first baby was born April; I was listening to the BBC: Grace Kelly was marrying Prince Ranier; the British and Russians were testing nuclear weapons; Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan were clowning on "The Goon Show," which I found funny, but my Belgian husband found inexplicable. In Fall, we went to Brussels, where, for three days, throngs of protesters kept pouring into the streets shouting in unison, "Hongrie! Liberté!" (Hungary! Freedom!), even as the Soviet tanks were closing in on Budapest; and in Winter it was so cold that all the canals in Amsterdam froze solid, so that one could skate even under the bridges; and no coal was to be had, due to aftereffects of the Suez Canal Crisis. Although I didn't realise it at the time, 1956 was an amazing year, and "The Hour" replicates its social and political tensions with what seems to my memory to be striking accuracy.
Since the BBC Home Service played such an important part in my life in 1956, I was especially interested in a drama set at the heart of the BBC, and the complexities of making of a live television news programme; for me, the espionage and politics were delicious icing on the cake!
I do not think, however, that one has to be of vintage years to enjoy this political thriller, which is so well written and beautifully acted that its riveting plot and absorbing drama will leave you hoping for a second season; and, even if such hopes should not be realised, "The Hour", with its complex twists and turns and attention to detail, is so enthralling that you might want to enjoy it a second time.
And, perhaps, even a third.