After the hour

“Children, there will be tears.” -The Hour (TV show, 2011-2012)

The Hour, a BBC television series, is one of my favorites to re-watch, despite the fact that it was cancelled after two excellent seasons. The first season is set during the Suez crisis and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. It follows the lives of Bel Rowley, producer, and Freddie Lyon, home affairs correspondent, for a nightly news program called The Hour. Bel got the job Freddie wanted, and she tries to prove that she deserves it. The fictional news program gains momentum as the season progresses, eventually becoming a serious and respected source of current events.

Freddie is in love with Bel, but Bel has commitment issues and fools around with unavailable men, including the married presenter for The Hour, Hector Madden. Although the romance plays a big role in the series, these characters are also grappling with larger issues. In a time when women’s roles were changing, Bel sees marriage and children as the potential end to her career ambitions, so she avoids any romantic relationship that could turn serious. She is career-focused first and foremost, which is refreshing. Hector wants to be taken seriously and not simply be the handsome face of the show. Freddie doggedly pursues the truth in his reporting, completely disregarding his personal safety in the process.

A subplot follows the death of a debutante, whose family Freddie lived with during the war, and involves Soviet spies and intrigue and something (or someone) called a Brightstone. The reveal of the real spy in the sixth episode surprised me, though, when re-watching, I felt as if I should have guessed. The plotting is at times over dramatic, but the characters, their interactions with each other and their motivations and goals, are what makes the show great.

Not only does the show have top-notch acting and a set of likable but flawed main characters, the supporting characters are compelling as well. Hector’s wife, Marnie, is sympathetic and gets her own storyline and fictional cooking show in the second season. Isaac, Freddie’s assistant, has aspirations of becoming a comedy writer. A press advisor for the prime minister, Angus McCain harbors a secret that could ruin his career and send him to jail. Although McCain is an antagonistic figure, his personal life lends his character a broader spectrum, shading what could have been merely a villain into a balanced character.

The real star of the supporting cast is Lix Storm, played brilliantly by Anna Chancellor, a hard-drinking (“Whiskey is God’s way of telling us he loves us and wants us to be happy”), independent woman who is often found in the office during the weekend. She covers foreign affairs and is intelligent, witty, and tough. Like Bel, she struggles at times with what it means to be independent, with retaining a sense of herself as a woman and as a journalist.

I highly recommend this program for anyone who likes a good period drama. And always remember: no one will want to steal a yellow lamp.