Unlike similar shows such as Mad Men and Downton Abbey, The Hour was released to little fanfare with a season one debut in the summer of 2011. With a compelling premise, capable directing and a fantastic cast, this was a season that deserved the attention of those shows. With still not much of a following, the second season of The Hour debuted this past November. While the soap opera elements of the show intensified during this season, The Hour was still able to succeed by giving a great sense of the times with an always-fantastic cast.
Season two of The Hour follows an investigation into a crime syndicate based out of a local night club after Hector (Dominic West) gets involved with one of the dancers there. As Hector, Bel (Romola Garai) and Freddie (Ben Whishaw) continue their investigation they learn that this syndicate reaches further than they ever possibly could have imagined. The show is run by Abi Morgan (who only wrote four of this season’s episodes instead of all six like she did during the first season), and the show’s directing team includes Sarah Goldbacher, Catherine Morshead and Jamie Payne.
Abi Morgan has done an exceptional job (during both this season and the show’s debut season) in combining all of the elements needed to make a great period drama. The visuals are gorgeous, and even more so this season as Morgan is able to get a crew that make the sets and costumes realistic and yet flashy (although the makeup and action oriented scenes still need a bit of work). The atmosphere is interesting as it is able to capture what it felt like to live during Cold War England. The writing is also very competent as it finds a way to make most of the characters interesting individuals. Even the more melodramatic parts find some way to work (despite there being an increase with these moments over the first season).
While the first season felt like the Romola Garai show (who is just astounding as Bel Rowley), Morgan was able to give more material to Ben Whishaw and Dominic West while still giving a lot of opportunities for Garai to shine during this season. Ultimately, Garai is still the highlight of the show but Whishaw and West are finally joining her as the standouts. Whishaw was perfect for the quirky and determined character that he played during season one but it was nice to see the writers work in some vulnerability for the character. Whishaw was able to use that to his advantage. Meanwhile, West was able to use his charm while somehow making his character sympathetic at almost every turn this season.
In the supporting cast, Anna Chancellor got a lot more material as she was combined with newcomer Peter Capaldi (who played the new network head). Both played off each other well and (even though it took a while to get there) found an interesting direction for both of their characters.
While this season ultimately didn’t feel as effective as its debut season, season two of The Hour proved that this is one of the best (if not the best) period shows currently on television.