The time is 1956. The BBC has already grown stagnant. At least that's what Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) thinks. He's spent most of his time at the BBC reporting on celebrity weddings and the whereabouts of the country's famous socialites. Apparently, junk news knows no time period. Freddie longs for something more. A journalistic life of reporting real, hard news. Calling people's attention to stories and situations that they had no idea were going on. Set against the backdrop of the drama between Egypt and England with the Suez Canal, 'The Hour' weaves an intricate story of journalistic integrity, and how hard it is to stay impartial when the country's main news source is funded by the government.
The show begins with a murder. Who is victim? We have no idea. Who is the murderer? We also have no idea. These are bits of information we learn as the series continues. Freddie, always looking for a story, is pulled in head first by one of his friends, who mysteriously knows more than she's letting on. She hints at a conspiracy, but Freddie can't substantiate anything she's saying. Meanwhile, a new news program is being created by the BBC. Freddie's close journalist friend, Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) has been tasked with putting together the show as the producer. She insists that she needs Freddie by her side, even though the higher-ups at the BBC think he's a troublemaker. The face of the show belongs to Hector Madden (Dominic West), a dashing man who grew up with a very privileged background of old money. It would seem that his family's wealth, and not his actual talent as an anchorman, got him this job.
'The Hour' is a fascinating six-part mini-series, one that not only weaves a complex tale of conspiracy and murder, but also brings to light many of the drawbacks to having a government funded news organization.
Faceless bureaucrats from the British government routinely interrupt the show's proceedings with "suggestions" on what news to cover and what news to leave alone. They censor the news with veiled threats of reduced funding. Holding a giant weight over their collective heads, which could drop at any moment if they get out of line.
Bel, Hector, and Freddie must continually walk a tightrope of journalistic morals, juxtaposed with the nefarious threats from government heads. The murder and who's behind it isn't the only driving force of this mini-series. Yes, you definitely want to know who did it and why, but the bigger story here is the role of journalism and the danger of censorship.
Over the course of six episodes, 'The Hour' offers up some wonderfully well-rounded, colorful characters. We get to know them, like them, and root for them. Even Hector, who at first comes across as a pretentious snob, has a lot of redeeming value as Freddie's go-get'em attitude rubs off on him.
I was transfixed by this series. From the first few minutes, tension slowly builds until it feels like the entire thing is sitting on a powder keg just waiting to explode. Suspense builds and builds until it's almost unbearable, leading up to one of the most climactic news shows that's ever been portrayed on screen. I never knew the filming of a newscast could be so dramatic, but the newscast in the sixth episode is that and so much more. 'The Hour' must be seen, and felt. Its characters are deep, its storyline is multifaceted, its attention to historical detail is immaculate, and its journalistic morals are worth every second.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Hour' is a BBC production. It to Blu-ray on two BD-50 discs, which are housed in a standard sized keepcase.
Like so many BBC Blu-ray presentations, 'The Hour' comes to us in 1080i. Sometimes, as with 'Going Postal,' it's easy to tell that it didn't have the same look or quality as 1080p. However, with 'The Hour' the 1080i versus 1080p isn't as noticeable.
You'll notice certain problems when it comes to the blacks of the picture. They seem to blend into each other. Different shades of black and gray create a sort of dark blob that doesn't add much depth or dimensionality to the screen. Many nighttime scenes are thick with dancing noise. With that said, the nighttime scenes look much better than they did in 'Going Postal.'
Daytime, and well-lit indoor scenes, are crisp and concise. A few softer shots are visible here and there, but on the whole, the detail, shadow delineation, and edge resolution are all fairly well done. Facial details are easily noticeable, along with the myriad of different 50s clothing textures. I liked to watch the numerous clouds of smoke (since everyone smokes in this series) curl up and around the character's heads with great clarity. Colors are a bit muted in order to give that show that late-50s look. Even then, greens are very lush and reds are dark and crimson.
'The Hour' isn't demo material, but it's a strong visual presentation all the same.
Another BBC production with a 2.0 Stereo LPCM audio track. While I applaud the lossless sound I find it difficult to think that a simple stereo track is the best that this show could sound. 'The Hour' is filled with a routine business that's inherent to newsrooms, and that engaging surround sound is lost with a 2.0 mix.
Dialogue is smooth and easy to understand. Sound effects are nicely placed, and what limited directionality there is, is used well. Lower end frequencies are few and far between, but crop up every now and then when the show's brooding soundtrack calls for it. Still, it would've been nice to have a bit more oomph provided by a sub-woofer.
While the 2.0 Stereo mix is technically proficient, a surround sound mix would've been more realistic and engaged me even more.
'The Hour' was immensely enjoyable. It had everything you could want in a dramatic mini-series. Anyone remotely interested in the morals and pitfalls of journalism should give it a watch. It's one of the best BBC mini-series I've ever seen. With satisfactory video, but below average audio, 'The Hour' still comes recommended.