The timing of this second series of The Hour has worked out pretty nicely for the scriptwriter: the programme centres around a struggling BBC news programme whose head has been sacked and whose stories are being stolen by an ITV rival. Ben Whishaw has shot to international fame as Q in the latest James Bond since playing Freddie Lyons in series one, and – just as we’d all started experiencing severe withdrawal at the lack of Peter Capaldi verbally eviscerating people on our screens – here he is being parachuted in as the new head of news, threatening people left, right and centre.
If the timing has worked out well for the show itself, we can’t say the same for its characters. Hector (Dominic West), the show’s host, has been late to work every day for six months. Having become something of a celebrity he prefers spending his time in nightclubs rather than actually coming to the office or ever going home to his long suffering wife. She shows refreshing signs of mounting a backlash: now she has been waiting 18 months for a baby and stands at home in her marshmallow-pink prison of a kitchen, frantically baking as she watches the clock – ‘homemaking when there’s nothing to homemake for.’
On Freddie’s surprise return to the team, at first it seems best friend Bel (Romola Garai) may have finally realised in his absence that she’s as in love with him as he always has been with her, only to turn up at his house two months late – two months after his marriage to Camille. In the midst of all this personal angst there is the continuing presence of the major period stories. Before it was the Suez crisis dominating the news; this time its Sputnik and the nuclear arms race. One difficulty with the programme is that it doesn’t seem sure what it’s trying to be: political thriller, period soap, or murder mystery? There are elements of all of these in this opener, as Morgan sets up a lot of potential plot strands without following any of them too far.
Regardless, the cast is exceptionally strong, the supporting roles (Anna Chancellor, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Peter Capaldi) as much as the central three who are played to perfection. It’s smart, stylish and beautifully shot, so whatever this series is set to become, it’s sure to be worth a watch each week.