The Hour series 2: First episode review

I assume, if you’re reading this, you were a fan of the original series. If not, allow me to bring you up to speed. Released in 2011 The Hour was a drama miniseries set in a BBC newsroom studios in the 1950s, starring Ben Whishaw, Dominic West and Romola Garai.

The premise began with ambitious, young producer Bel (Garai) being tasked by her boss to helm a new, cutting-edge news show. Her reporter and friend, Freddie (Whishaw), was brought on board to run the domestic news side of the show, with charismatic Hector (West) as anchor in front of camera. Series one took place against the backdrop of the Suez Crisis, with a murder mystery/spy story that built throughout to a tense, dramatic conclusion.

west garai whishawCanny casting
In terms of the three leads, Whishaw is going from strength to strength, currently seen as Q in the new Bond, Skyfall. He also has a significant role in the highly anticipated epic film, Cloud Atlas. Garai is a young, talented, up-and-coming actress, prolific on both stage and screen.

Notably she’s starred in TV miniseries The Crimson Petal and the White with Chris O’Dowd – and been in films Atonement and One Day. West is best known as McNulty from critically acclaimed TV show The Wire and film 300.

Superlative scripting
I must admit, I’d completely forgotten about series two until I spotted an advert the day before it started. Lucky for me, because I thoroughly enjoyed the first series. The three leads had some great lines, courtesy of a strong script by Abi Morgan – who also wrote the screenplay for films Shame and The Iron Lady. Indeed, this show was nominated for Best Miniseries – as well as two other awards – at the Golden Globes.

It’s also worth noting that it’s incorrectly been described – mostly by the press – as the British Mad Men. Other than the period setting, that’s it in terms of similarities. It’s a completely different beast. Just so you know what you’re getting into.

peter capaldiSeries two: Episode one – the plot
So it was with excitement that I settled down to watch the new series. It takes place a year after events at the end of series one, with Bel struggling to keep the show running. The episode starts with new Head of News, Randall Brown (the brilliant Peter Capaldi), and takes place in a Britain consumed by fear of nuclear attack by Soviet Russia. In order to compete with a rival show Randall brings Freddie back, which unsettles Bel. At the same time Hector receives a tip-off for a story that could outdo their rivals.

Didn’t they do well?
Sorry for going all Brucie bonus on you there, but it was a good first episode, hitting the beats in terms of bringing us up-to-date on the newsroom and various staff changes. This included introduction of Capaldi, who slipped effortlessly into the show, stealing most scenes with fantastically delivered lines. As an actor he seems to personify authority and quiet, bottled rage, kept at bay with a calm, almost Zen exterior. That’s probably why he was so good in political satire TV show The Thick of It, although he’s understandably more restrained here.

His character also hints at an ulterior motive for joining the newsroom, something brought up by reporter Lix Storm. So I imagine there’s a lot more to see from the mysterious Randall.

Whishaw’s character, Freddie, gets a brilliantly scripted introduction. As an audience anticipating his entrance, we’re kept waiting for half the episode. He then returns to the studio, sauntering into a news briefing like he’d never left,  sporting a bohemian beard and a sharp, new suit. This has significant impact on Bel; the range of emotions that flit across Garai’s face in this scene are worth watching. I’ve been a massive fan of hers since The Crimson Petal and the White. Her chemistry with Freddie picks up pretty quickly until near the end of the episode, when she makes a discovery.

Meanwhile West’s character, Hector, has let the success go to his head and is on fine, smug form: drinking, late for work, flirting and bedding glamorous women. This sows the seeds (no pun intended) for a story strand involving a mystery woman (played by Hannah Tointon), series 2 domonic westwho will most likely need the help of the intrepid news team. This plot feels a little similar to the start of the first series, a mystery woman in danger. I’m sure it will take on a life of its own quickly enough.

A final point, the tone of the show – including some great use of music during scenes – has continued much where it left off from the first series. This is important. Whilst it’s great to evolve and develop characters, it’s important not to lose sight of the appeal of the original. Factors that made it so compelling first time round I’ve covered: great cast, strong script and characters, suspense, intrigue, great period detail, sublime soundtrack.

Let’s raise an Old Fashioned to – what I predict will be – an intriguing series!

Marvel – masters of the cinematic universe

avengers natasha romanoff

For this posting I’d like to discuss the evolution of the Marvel universe. I recently – finally – got around to seeing The Avengers. Or, as it’s known in the UK, Avengers Assemble (damn you, Steed).

I have to say, having unavoidably seen and heard many reviews, I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy it and be expecting too much. Would it live up to the hype? Would it feel rushed/crowded with so many larger-than-life characters jostling for screen time? Well, much like everybody else, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Great pacing, great action, great characters, great dialogue.

avengers natasha romanoffPlus all the Avengers were given – more or less – an equal amount to do, including the new characters: Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. The latter unsurprisingly well written, given writer/director Joss Whedon’s affinity for strong, female characters (Buffy et al).

So, before this becomes an Avengers review, back to the subject in question. I had a vague awareness of the fact there’s been quite a few films over recent years that have come out of the Marvel studio. However when you really look, it seems like an unstoppable wave. To name the live-action films we’ve had since 1998:

  • 5 X Men (2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011)
  • 4 Spider Man (2002, 2004, 2007, 2012)
  • 3 Blade (1998, 2002, 2004)
  • 2 Iron Man (2008, 2010)
  • 2 Hulk (2003, 2008)
  • 2 Fantastic Four (2005, 2007)
  • 2 Ghost Rider (2007, 2012)
  • 1 Thor (2011)
  • 1 Captain America (2011)
  • 1 Avengers (2012)

I’ve left off the experiments that were Daredevil, Elektra and Man Thing, simply because they weren’t hugely successful and it’s unlikely there will be a follow up to any of these in the near future. Therefore I’m only including films where the characters have appeared more than once in the Marvel cinematic universe. So, from 1998 to 2012 (that’s 14 years, keep up), we’ve had 23 films. That’s 1.6 films a year! I’m not sure if what I’m expressing here is good shock or bad shock? Perhaps both.

snipes dorff bladeLooking ahead
I suppose, with this sort of prolific output, you’ll have successes and failures. In recent years, they’ve begun to have more of the former, both critically and commercially. For every mediocre Daredevil or Fantastic Four you’ll get a decent Spider Man or Blade.

Or, if you’re really lucky, strike complete gold and unearth Robert Downey Jr. A man born to play Tony Stark. Don’t believe me? Watch some of his early work, like Natural Born Killers. Check out this classic scene. For me, if you take his character there, throw in a little Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Tropic Thunder, you’ll get Tony Stark. Perhaps a leap but it makes sense to me!

Don’t stop us now
With recent successes of the Avengers’ characters, both in their ensemble film and stand-alone outings, the plan for Marvel films over the next few years is looking quite exciting. Next year we’ll get a second from the blonde Asgardian, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3.  In 2014 we’ll have, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, plus – most intriguingly – a massive departure from the norm with Guardians of the Galaxy. A film which has a sentient tree and a raccoon with a gun as main characters.

I can’t say I’m excited about this one…yet. Although I do approve of the concept art above. What I like is that you cannot accuse Marvel of resting on their laurels or playing it too safe. That, in itself, is reason to be quietly optimistic. But I guess we’ll see. Oh, and there’s also a second Avengers due out 2015, just in case Guardians doesn’t go as planned.

Defenders of the universe
So, on the whole, I think it’s great Marvel are mixing it up. Yes, they’re putting out films for a lot of their mainstream superheroes, but they’re safer bets. Keeps the money coming in. They could just sit on that but, like any industry, if you’re not moving forward you’re doing the opposite.

So introducing a new host of characters is brave, yet wholly necessary. Eventually we’ll get sick of superhero films and want westerns or zombie films for a few years or something. But, if Marvel keep freshening things up, maybe we’ll stay a while longer. Maybe a character called Rocket Raccoon is just what’s called for – long live diversity!