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The Hour: Season Two (Blu-ray)

(BBC; US DVD: 8 Jan 2013)

The second season of the BBC’s excellent period drama, The Hour continues its mix of intrigue amidst historical events and personal dramas. While the first season took some time to establish itself, the second season comes out strong and immediately involving, setting the tone for a terrific story arc.

Much of the first season revolved around the love triangle between Hector Madden (Dominic West), the handsome and charming newscaster; Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), The Hour’s very capable producer; and Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), a brash investigative reporter. While Hector is a married man, he’s also a womanizer with little regard for his marriage. Freddie’s long-standing love for Bel is established and known by all who work at The Hour, but it’s Bel’s indecision that has great repercussions in the second season.

Freddie returns to The Hour after being away on extended travels, with a French wife, Camille (Lizzie Brochere). The Hour had been taken off the air and as he returns, Bel and Hector are struggling with how to bring back the show with a new Head of News at the helm, Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi). Brown has a history with Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor), the foreign desk reporter at The Hour, and their past also finds a way into the backstage drama. 

Brown’s introduction to The Hour quickly establishes him as a serious and fair-minded head, despite the political maneuvering required in his position. He’s a careful and measured man whose judgment is a good counterpoint for the often impulsive Freddie. The scenes that reveal the nature of his history with Lix are especially effective because they allow him the only opportunities to express emotion, and Capaldi is wonderful in playing both sides of the character.

In addition to the personal dramas, the second season of The Hour follows a story filled with mystery, power-hungry men, and scandal that carries through the six episodes of the season. Centered on the goings on at a nightclub, El Paradis, and its owner, Raphael Cilenti (Vincent Riotta), the story also affects Hector directly as his drinking and womanizing becomes more and more out of control, also taking place at El Paradis.

The women who work at El Paradis serve as both the victims and eventual downfall of the nightclub, with one showgirl in particular, Kiki (Hannah Tointon), playing a prominent role. As Hector’s indiscretions escalate, his marriage to Marnie (Oona Chaplin) begins to fall apart, and scandal hangs over their relationship. Marnie’s position is not only one in which she is afraid of her standing in society, as was made out to be her major motivation in the first season, but rather how her relationship with Hector is to be navigated going forward, both complex and indicative of the changing times.

Lazy comparisons were initially made between The Hour and Mad Men, but they only serve to create disappointment in the viewer. Apart from the similarity in time period – and a dedication to the details of that period – The Hour resembles a slow burn news or spy drama. The series thrives on the behind-the-scenes machinations at a news program plagued by the constraints of wartime friendships and censorship codes.  Working simultaneously within and against the system, Freddie, Bel, and Hector (all in their own ways and to different degrees) strive to provide important news without interference from network or government. The difficulty required to do so is at the heart of conflict in the series, as its leads have to use subterfuge, as well out outright defiance, to get their work done.

The second season of The Hour builds upon the first season’s well drawn characters and well executed story arcs. The acting continues to bring further layers to the characters, as Whishaw, Garai, and West are uniformly wonderful. Whishaw in particular plays Freddie’s growing maturity perfectly, and Capaldi is an excellent addition to the cast. 

Unfortunately, the series was cancelled after the second season, despite improving upon an already terrific season. While The Hour may have had a somewhat limited appeal, especially as the first season did move at a slower pace, its continuing quality should have made for a show with a broader audience. Regardless, The Hour stands as one of the best series of the year, as the second season was filled with drama, intrigue, and a terrific use of period and tone.

The DVD release includes only one bonus feature, a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes, many of which aired during the commercial breaks on BBC America. They are a nice addition, but it would have been nicer to have some commentaries.


Extras rating:

J.M. Suarez has been a contributing writer at PopMatters since 2008. She's happy to talk about TV any time, any place. Really.

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