by Madeleine Saaf, May 2015
Last night the second half of the final season of Mad Men began. It’s the end of a television era and the end of a fictionalized era in history. If you have May 17th circled on your calendar, dreading the day you will have to leave behind the 1960’s, fear not. You have options. While it’ll be hard to say goodbye to Peggy and Joan and Don (okay, I don’t know how difficult it will be to say goodbye to Don…) and Roger, to the incredible set pieces and clouds of smoke, there is another show you should have queued up and ready to go. The BBC drama The Hour, which aired two seasons between 2011 and 2012, will be your self medication, no whisky needed.
The Hour takes place in London in the mid-1950’s. Instead of the cynical world of advertisement, it centers on the grueling work of journalists at the BBC as they try to produce a weekly television news program. Sure, a journalist’s life might not be as flashy as an ad man’s, but at least there is a little more heart underneath the suit. Still not convinced that this incredibly smart drama is your rebound from Mad Men? Here are some reasons you should be.
The actors who compose this stellar cast are some of the best of the best of British theatre. First, we have our main character, Freddie Lyon, played by Ben Whishaw. Ben, the glasses-wearing Q in Skyfall that will appear again in Spectre. Ben, the cuddly voice of Paddington in the new film about the classic childhood book character. If you don’t know him, look him up and get to know him. You can start with The Hour.
Then we have Romola Garai. She has quite a body of work built up, but let’s just take a moment to savor the fantastic Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. If you watched that movie every time it was on TNT like I did, you’ll be happy to see Garai back in 50’s gear but this time around in a major power role at the world’s leading news service as Bel Rowley (Powerful, strong, intelligent female character? Rejoice!).
We cannot forget the suave Hector Madden, the host of the fictional news broadcast, played by Dominic West. Yes, Dominic West, the hot-philanderer that had you panting through all those episodes of The Affair this year. Now just imagine him in a nicely fit suit, using his natural British accent, and winking a lot.
Other cast members include some familiar British faces. First, the wonderful Anna Chancellor. Don’t let her cruelty in the seminal Amanda Bynes flick What a Girl Wants fool you -- she’s a tough cookie but on the right side this time. Second, Andrew Scott. If anyone is missing Moriarty on Sherlock, here’s your chance to see him in a less creepy role. Even Peter Capaldi joins the cast in Season 2. Dr. Who fans, you’re welcome.
Let’s be honest. One of the best parts of Mad Men is that it looks good. The clothing inspires trips to the nearest vintage store in hopes of finding a 60’s suit that will look half as good on you as the ones Joan throws on. The set is a mid-century modern fantasy world. Both the costumes and the set on The Hour are dream worthy. Bel’s office wear reminds us that you don’t have to wear literal pants to “wear the pants” in the business. Hector’s wife Marnie is the Betty of the show, both as the wife-of-the-dreamboat character and in terms of wearing the greatest full-skirt dresses that you could ever imagine. The colors on each scene have a perfect balance that pleases the eye to the extreme. If you aren’t swooning over the beautiful cast, you will surely be swooning over the authentic retro look.
The writers of Mad Men have taken home plenty of awards, and while The Hour has only won one Emmy for writing, that seems to have more to do with the fact that there were only two seasons, not because the writing wasn’t up-to-snuff. The plot lines are complicated enough to keep you intrigued without losing you in the technicalities of a world you may not have actually inhabited (unless you did live in England in the 1950’s, in which case I’m sure you will be even more thrilled to find a show to satisfy your nostalgia). The characters feel real, and you can’t help but root for them. Even the philanderers win you over to their side! There is a bit of the crime element that dominates current television trends, but it’s all rooted in trying to produce a news program. If the end of The Newsroom was equally as tragic to you as the nearing end of Mad Men, The Hour is the best of both combined into one. Get on it.
Let’s recap. Here is a show that has a dazzling cast, mouthwatering design, and phenomenal writing, plus they have British accents. What more could you want? The Hour is currently on Amazon Instant Video, or you can do what I did and just order the DVDs. You’ll probably want to watch it over and over and share it with all your friends so you can plan a Pinterest wedding for you and Freddie with someone.