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The Hour (BBC/DVD/2011)

This six-hour mini-series is a political thriller set in 1956 during the illy-thought-out Suez Crisis.  The Anthony Eden government in the U.K. decided to send troops, along with France and Israel, to protect the European-owned Suez Canal Company, and was roundly condemned by the United States and the United Nations for it.  This series is set in and around the (fictional) BBC hour-long television show (the first of its length in Britain) and the political intrigues that swirled around it trying to keep the Beeb’s ethical independence.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose/The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  It’s what makes the show so relevant.

Written by Abi Morgan and directed by Harry Bradbeer, Coky Giedrovc and Jamie Payne (two episodes each), this taut storyline concerns the back-of-camera and on-camera talent, their interacting storylines, and the pressures brought to bear by the Government and those who actually run the first public-broadcasting entity (paid for by a yearly television-connection tax).

Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), the newish producer of the BBC The Hour, is torn between two men: Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), a writer for the news show and Hector Madden (Dominic West), the reporter/anchor of the show.  Her bosses, the acerbic and witty Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor) and Clarence Fendley (Anton Lesser), the overall producer of the show, fight over her journalistic soul.  And a host of lesser-characters, all vividly brought to life by superbly trained actors such as Burn Gorman, Oona Chaplin, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Josh McGuire and Lisa Greenwood, make this show a true winner.

What the creators of the series got period-right and what is so disturbing on a superficial level, is how much they all smoke and drink.  They didn’t know what we know today and one can only hope that they have substituted herbal cigs and cold-tea for the real stuff; otherwise we’d have actors dead before the final airings.

The period is made very much alive, in keeping with British artistic sensibilities, and interspersing the personal angst with the political and social upheavals either in front of them, or coming soon, makes it riveting and educational.  One may not give a toss about Suez, then or now, but it was a world-power changing event at the time and gives insight into how conservative political forces don’t really understand what Democracy is and how messy it can be.  Which includes telling the truth.  As Thomas Jefferson once wisely wrote:  “Where a press is free and every man can read, all is safe.”

The DVD extras are skimpy, but nice:  how the show came together for us to see and small interviews with the creative and artistic staff and talent.  I enjoyed it in its entirety.  So may you.