Cometh The Hour, cometh the women
Yes, this is a raving review of the new BBC series The Hour.
Yes, I know that the viewer numbers are declining week on week, but who are the British viewing public to judge?
No seriously, who are they to judge?
To date, there have been over 22 series of Big Brother including the could-TV-be-more-wrist-slashingly-dire-than-this-I-want-to-kill-my-eyes spin offs, and it’s coming back on Channel ‘Supporting the dignity of women everywhere’ Five this year.
Besides, the Daily Mail hate it, and that’s actually all I need to know about anything to love it immediately.
Ok, so maybe I do have a crush on Freddie Lyon (admirably played by Ben Whishaw)the size of Greater London, even though or perhaps especially because he sounds a little bit like Michael Caine, but it’s not just the hormones talking.
But before I go any further, a warning. I’m not your normal TV reviewer and I’m not going to rehash the story so far so you don’t feel left out.
If you want someone to hold your hand and walk you through the series, stretch your sad paws no further than Google, or better still, watch the damn thing – did I mention it’s on iPlayer?
Freddie Lyon, the lead character, brings to mind a sort of 1950s Steig Larsson or his fictional counterpart Mikael Blomkvist.
An outsider who has defied the class barriers of his time to become a successful-at-the-margins broadcast journalist, Lyon is outspoken, difficult and driven by a need for fairness and justice.
He’s exactly the sort of journalist I’ve wanted to be since I was pre-birth, and he’s smartly written, beautifully played and a pleasure to watch – ok, ok, I did tell you I had a crush on him.
But more to the point here – at least until I’m alone with BBC iPlayer – The Hour has some great female leads, in terms of writing, casting and acting.
Producer Bel Rowley played by Romola Garai, is a woman breaking the glass ceiling of the fifties to lead a new topical news show, The Hour.
Sound unlikely? Well, not so my cynical viewing comrades.
For those of you a bit behind on your broadcast news gender history, a bit of reading about Grace Wyndham Goldie, wouldn’t go amiss.
She joined the BBC in the 1940s, established a range of programmes including Tonight and Panorama and launched the careers of some of our most famous broadcast journalists, including Robin Day, David Frost and Richard Dimbleby.
Collectively, they became known as The Goldie Boys – I kid you not.
You want to watch The Hour now, don’t you?
But Bel’s not the only woman to watch in the show.
Supplying the laughs as well as built-in gravitas is the inimitable Anna Chancellor as Lix – The Hour’s Foreign Correspondent, who is currently leading the show through ground-breaking coverage of the Suez Crisis.
Lix has some of the best lines, including: “Whisky is god’s way of telling us he loves us and wants us to be happy.”
Lix may well also be based on Grace Wyndham Goldie in part, as Panorama also faced its own problems covering the Suez Crisis.
But the real surprise for me is Oona Chaplin playing socialite wife, Marnie Madden.
In a few of the reviews I’ve read, Marnie Madden has been written off as the stereotypical spoiled and shallow poor little rich girl, but Chaplin’s performance consistently brings real depth to this character.
As any woman who has ever suspected her husband or partner of cheating will know, what you say with your eyes rather than your mouth speaks volumes, and mine are glued to Chaplin – even when she’s in the background – in every scene.
These fantastic female characters spring fully-formed and intellectually delicious from the pen of Abi Morgan, who we should all remember for the hard-hitting drama Sex Traffic in 2004 – still available from the fantastic resource that is 4OD.
“…the challenges of the time remain oddly unchanged,” writes Morgan, “The struggles with fidelity, professional jealousies and political ambition are as rife now as they were in 1950…”
They certainly are, particularly with Freddie investigating a Hackgate-esque tip-of-the-iceberg conspiracy of corruption involving the law, the media and the government.
So why is The Hour getting such a slam-dunking?
To be honest, beats me, because I really don’t think it deserves it.
Many critics feel the social messages – class disadvantage, sexism, racism – are too much “tell” and not enough “show”. But actually, this is one of the things I like about it.
The show has drawn the inevitable comparison with Mad Men – in my view not a comparison that applies here, and no offence to either show intended – which shows its gender injustice far more than it tells about it.
Yet I’m drawn to The Hour particularly because some – and certainly not the majority – of its characters voice their desire for a world that’s better.
Moreover, the existence of real-life characters such as Grace Wyndham Goldie tells us that this isn’t as far from the truth as the Daily Mail would have us believe.
In his review, Peter Hitchens writes scathingly about The Hour for refusing to portray a period as it actually was and instead portraying the fifties as the writers wish it had been.
According to Hitchens, in the fifties:
“Men really were courteous to women, and women – including educated women – genuinely expected to get married and have children and saw nothing wrong in that.
“The men wore blue or grey suits (often shabby) and knotted their ties tightly. Most women – particularly in offices – were compelled to be fairly dowdy by the general shortage of money. Career advancement came very slowly, and so deference was common in offices.”
And your dinner was always on the table at six sharp, by 8.15 you could be sure of satisfaction while your wife lay back and thought of England, and by 8.22 you’d be sipping contentedly at your cocoa.
Yes, yes, Mr Hitchens, tuck yourself in, try not to dribble and we’ll find a re-run of The Good Life somewhere on cable.
But back in the real world, the rest of us are busy dealing with the very real complexity of truth – in the present as much as in the past.
And where my taste for drama is concerned, I’m quite happy to last out The Hour while we do.