It’s a stylish 1950s-set drama series that explores the changing social and sexual politics of the era through the mass media’s emerging power.
BBC Two is hoping that The Hour, set in the pivotal year of 1956, with a television newsroom backdrop, will satisfy those calling for homegrown drama to match the quality and impact of Mad Men.
Like the US series, The Hour is set in a competitive environment where women are beginning to break through and the polite facade of the era masks deep tensions which will ultimately produce a social revolution.
But The Hour, written by Abi Morgan (Brick Lane, Sex Traffic), which runs to six initial episodes, unlike Mad Men’s generous thirteen, also promises to be a pacy thriller with a murder at its heart.
A top-notch cast has been assembled for the series, which should answer some of the BBC Trust’s criticisms that BBC Two needs more creative ambition in prime-time.
Set at the launch of a topical news TV show (could it be inspired by Panorama which began in 1953?), The Hour follows a sharp-witted and passionate love triangle centred on the ambitious yet enigmatic Bel (Romola Garai) and her two rivals.
Ben Whishaw plays Freddie Lyon, a brilliant and outspoken journalist, whose passion, inevitably, lands him in trouble.
Dominic West of The Wire legend, plays Hector Madden, a charming, charismatic presenter, whose family connections get him the job as front man on The Hour.
The triangle plays out against the intense ambitions of the news team and the backdrop of a mysterious murder which leads to Freddie’s controversial and dangerous investigation.
BBC veterans will enjoy debating who might be the role model for Clarence Fendley, the BBC’s Head of News, played by Anton Lesser or Anna Chancellor’s hard-drinking, maverick foreign correspondent.
This being 1956, the drama plays out against the Suez crisis, which rocked the nation’s self-confidence. The protagonsists confront their future whilst the nation does the same.
It’s possible to imagine The Hour developing through the years, incorporating the Profumo affair for example, in the same way as Mad Men has moved through President Kennedy and beyond, if The Hour is a hit.
With weighty names such as Tim Pigott-Smith and Juliet Stevenson appearing in supporting roles the Kudos Film and TV (Life On Mars, Spooks) series looks like an attempt to demonstrate that the BBC can still colonise the high-ground for intelligent, authored, homegrown drama.
Ben Stephenson, BBC Controller, Drama Commissioning, says: ”The combination of Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai as Bel and Dominic West gives us one of the most exciting casts for a British TV series in years.
“Our trio crackle with sexual frisson and will bring 1950s London to life with style and complexity thanks to Abi Morgan’s breathtaking scripts.”
Whether the Mad Men comparisons hold true or not, Beehive will be watching with interest as The Hour approacheth next Spring.