When Abi Morgan’s 1950s newsroom drama The Hour debuted last summer it opened to mixed responses from critics with some praising the period detail while others thought the dialogue was fairly clunky. However the series was incredibly well-received in America which was evident when the programme was nominated for three Golden Globes at the start of the year. This success was obviously the contributing factor to The Hour getting another run which, according to BBC head of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson, is the first time a BBC2 show has been given a second series in about 100 years.
Series two sees the action shift to 1957 a year Morgan was keen to explore as it was when McMillan instructed the country to ‘spend, spend, spend’ while at the same time the country was preparing for a possible nuclear attack. In the first series Morgan looked at a time of post-war austerity but by 1957 she presents an England that has been seduced by Hollywood glamour but with that comes the seedy underworld. Since series one Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) has left the newsroom of The Hour after taking the rap for the Lord Elms interview while Bel Rowley (Romola Gari) is still the producer and Hector Madden (Dominic West) has seen his star rise so is enjoying the fame that the programme has given him. As we see in the opening scenes of the new series Hector cares more about flirting with women and drinking than he does about his job often arriving just before the programme goes live.
The programme also introduces a new head of news in Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi) a man of few words who seems to have some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder in which he has to rearrange small items such as figurines and drawing pins. Brown is aware that The Hour now has a competitor in ITV’s Uncovered which he describes as tighter, newer and fresher while he believes that their show doesn’t give him the tingles that it once did. In addition Brown also believes that Madden’s behaviour is out of control and as one of the conditions of him taking the position was re-hiring Freddie back as The Hour’s new co-presenter.
Since leaving the programme Freddie has traveled to America and France and seems to have mellowed quite a bit despite growing some rather distracting facial hair. Obviously Freddie’s return is met with indignation from Hector who wants to be the star of the show while Bel is angry that she wasn’t forewarned but at the same time she still appears to have strong feelings towards him. Bel’s other issue is Uncovered producer Bill Kendall (Tom Burke) who initially presents himself as a romantic prospect for her but later she discovers that he’s trying to steal Hector away from The Hour. As well as ruffling feathers Brown’s arrival also has a strong impact on Lix (Anna Chancellor) who has some sort of history with him that I’m sure will be dealt with in future episodes.
Hector’s involvement in the aforementioned sleazy underworld is also the other central story in this new series as he gets very close to showgirl Kiki (Hannah Tointon) who in turn is later beaten up by a shadowy figure who has followed her home. Tointon described Kiki as someone who emulates Marilyn Monroe and so she tried desperately to perfect the Monroe wiggle meanwhile Morgan also claims she was going to kill Kiki off until she saw how brilliant Hannah was in the role. West also talked about how it was his dream to tell the whole story arc of the character journeying from this untouchable celebrity icon to his inevitable descent into shame. It seems that in the second series we will see the decline of Hector’s marriage to Marnie (Oona Chaplin) which is essentially on the rocks as she sits aimlessly in front of the TV filling her time by making a variety of cakes as well as by cooking his dinner which often has to be thrown away.
There seemed to be a general consensus that this new series of The Hour had a much more playful spirit to it and Morgan claimed that as she knew the characters the writing process this time around was a little easier. The period detail remains intact as we still see the majority of the male characters looking dapper in their suits while the introduction of this sleazy Soho club allows The Hour to introduce some more glamour. The introduction of Capaldi as well as a stronger focus on the programme itself means that The Hour has grown stronger this series and from what I’ve seen of the upcoming episodes things are only going to get better.
Series 2 of The Hour starts Wednesday 14th November at 9.00pm on BBC2