Every so often I manage to stumble onto a TV show that really impresses me. BBC's The Hour is one of those shows.
The Hour stars several actors I have never heard of, but they all turn in superb performances. These include Ben Whishaw as Freddie Lyon, Romola Garai as Bel, Dominic West as Hector Madden, Burn Gorman as Mr. Kish, Anton Lesser as Clarence, and Anna Chancellor as Lix Storm. There are a few others, but these are some of the key players in this well written, wonderfully produced drama/espionage thriller set in the late 1950s.
The story is set in England. The first couple of episodes introduce most of the characters, of course, but also the actual news program known as The Hour. This new topical news show is being created within the BBC to give them something more interesting and worldly than the old newsreels, which focus almost exclusively on the royal family. Freddie Lyon, a brilliant journalist, is eager to find and present the more interesting stories in the world -- the Cold War era is upon them, afterall, although they do not know it yet. As strife in Egypt and the Suez Canal incident rise, and Eisenhower looks to be on the way out in the US, England's security is threatened and Lyon feels strongly about presenting these real news topics to the public.
Freddie and long time friend Bel Rowley, who becomes the producer of The Hour, leave their current dead-end news jobs and begin to launch The Hour with help from Clarence, the show's manager of sorts, and on camera talent Hector Madden. Simultaneously, a mysterious murder, reported by the authorities as a robbery gone violent, becomes all the more interesting when one of Freddie's friends, Ruth Elms (Vanessa Kirby) tells him that something is wrong -- "they" are hiding something. Freddie is skeptical at first, but events that I will avoid spoiling begin to convince him that, indeed, "they" are watching. Who are "they"? It's always an intriguing question -- and while Freddie struggles to figure
out the puzzle, the political and foreign relations for England become tested. Ultimately, the show just has a wonderful intensity that builds up literally from one episode to the next.
The Hour is one of those shows that, frankly, I'm hard pressed to find anything about it I don't like. The show hooked me within a half hour and every episode built smartly on previous episodes. The characters -- and how the actors perform them -- are really interesting and believable. The sets, costumes, and lighting go a long way in setting the mood too. Combine all that with a constantly subtly -- say that five times fast -- and a sometimes overtly thrilling/high intensity story, and you have a very captivating show.
The Hour on Blu-ray is a straight-forward, two disc set. Each disc contains three episodes and the option for English subtitles. The menus have a nice instrumental track that is somewhat spooky and very sobering, it's fitting for the show. Presentation quality is great -- the visual detail is crisp and vibrant. The smoke from the numerous cigarettes, the pores of the faces, everything looks solid technically, and from an art direction standpoint, I really like what the director and crew did. As for the audio, just Stereo LPCM is included, and it gets the job done, but may irk some audiophiles.
As for extra features, there are two:
-Behind the Scenes of The Hour (HD, ~10m) - An entertaining, albeit brief look behind the sets and costumes used for the show. Given that I thought both the sets and costumes were well done, this was interesting. Brief cast and crew interviews are also included.
-Creating The Hour (SD, ~20m) - Similar to the first feature in that we have cast and crew interviews talking about the show from the story to the characters. Worth a once over after completing the six episodes.
To the summary...