Blu-Ray Review: Incredible Cast Elevates BBC’s ‘The Hour’

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CHICAGO – “The Hour” recently finished its run on BBC America and was very quickly released on Blu-ray from BBC and Warner Bros. The quick turnaround is a brilliant move on the part of the company, striking while the iron is hot if you will. If they released “The Hour” in 6 to 9 months it wouldn’t have the same impact. Now, people talk about having watched the show to their friends and they can go out and see what the buzz is about for themselves. I’m surprised more studios don’t follow the same pattern. Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0

So, what IS the buzz about? It’s easy to point to the show and claim it as another “Mad Men” clone but, especially in light of the canceled “The Playboy Club” and the soon-to-be canceled “Pan Am,” the accomplishments of “The Hour” seem more notable. We’re learning that cloning “Mad Men” is not as easy as it looks. And, while “The Hour” is definitely superior to the two network clones this Fall, it still falls a bit short of the AMC program to which it has been compared. One thing that’s undeniable is that the program looks fantastic, something that will be ably assisted by an HD transfer.

The Hour
The Hour
Photo credit: BBC America

“The Hour” details the birth of the televised news media in the United Kingdom in the mid-’50s. While that may seem like a fascinating-enough subject for a drama, the BBC program throws a love triangle and even a murder/conspiracy arc into the six-episode series. On a plot level, there’s more than enough activity to foster audience interest but it’s actually much drier than its plot description, too often turning its characters into expository mouthpieces than three-dimensional beings.

The Hour was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 27th, 2011
The Hour was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 27th, 2011
Photo credit: BBC/Warner Bros.

“The Hour” stars three people I have adored in previous work — Ben Whishaw (“Bright Star”), Dominic West (“The Wire”), and Romola Garai (“Atonement”) — as a love triangle at the core of a new show about to debut and take news from radio to TV. There’s also a mystery at the core of the piece as the writers try to juggle love, cultural revolution, technology, and even murder into one six-episode series. Clearly, “The Hour” has ambition. Was there a more important one to the culture than the late-’50s? Arguably not and the writers and producers of the program recognize that in a remarkably self-conscious way. Largely through Freddie’s dialogue, “The Hour” feels like it’s constantly reminding the viewer of its own importance. It doesn’t breathe like the best programming of this variety and the characters feel more like mouthpieces for writers than living, breathing people. The dialogue regularly feels more forced then genuine.

It’s not through any lack of effort on the part of the cast. Whishaw has been an interesting young actor for a few years now and he’s well-cast in that he gives Freddie an intriguing combination of righteous indignation and low self-worth. He’ll tell you about the changing political scene but not tell Bel he loves her. Meanwhile, Garai and West are both charismatic actors who find ways to make their characters fresh enough to keep the viewer engaged.

And that’s the key to “The Hour.” The production values, the cast, the subject matter — they all keep the viewer interested even as the dialogue and the plotting disappoint. “The Hour” is worth seeing for viewers interested in the time period and the always-changing face of the way we get our news.

“Written by the award-winning screenwriter of Sex Traffic and Brick Lane and boasting an all-star cast, this gorgeous and thrilling 1950s drama follows a deadly conspiracy, laced with intense ambition and crackling with sexual tension.

London, 1956. At Lime Grove Studios, the BBC just launched The Hour, a topical news program. At the heart of the show are three contrasting journalists: enigmatic producer Bel Rowley, a spirited woman in a man’s world; her best friend Freddie Lyon, a brilliant and passionate reporter; and charming, well-connected front man Hector Madden. As Freddie moves to cover a significant but controversial breaking story, the trio becomes entangled in an intense interplay of politics, ambition and romance, all ignited by a mysterious murder and chilling conspiracy.

Driven by quick-witted characters and fast-paced dialogue, The Hour plays out as a riveting thriller set in a decade on the threshold of change, from the ruthless sexual politics behind the polite social facade to the revelations that redefined the world for a new generation.”

Special Features:
o Creating The Hour - Set design piece
o Behind the scenes of The Hour

“The Hour” stars Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, and Dominic West. It was released by Warner Bros/BBC on Blu-ray and DVD on September 27th, 2011 . content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

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