For some reason, a the number of really great political thrillers with disappointing endings (Edge of Darkness, State of Play, The Shadow Line, The Hour) outnumber those that keep on building to a crescendo at the final moment (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Children of Earth). That’s not to condemn those in the former class, which are better than many solidly structured but inferior pieces. It’s not about how good the final episode is in its own right, it’s whether it exceeds the episode it succeeds, and fulfils the promise of the series. And the problem with the final episode of The Hour is that although it builds to a crescendo, it’s emotional inflation, not real growth, a dotcom bubble buoyed by mawkish self-satisfaction.
Frustratingly, this wasn’t even a failure of plot. From the beginning, The Hour oozed class from every pore. It was beautifully shot, with a fabulous eye for period authenticity, a truly terrific jazz score (CD release, please?) and an amazing cast. In fact, I’ll divert for a moment to marvel at an ensemble not only whose leads were magnificent, but featuring in supporting roles Tim Piggot-Smith (is he even capable of giving a performance that’s less than perfect?), Julian Rhind-Tutt (whose almost steals the show, does his versatility know no bounds?) and Anton Lesser (who up to now I’ve only heard in audio performances, but must be one of my favourite actors working). With all that to enjoy, The Hour could begin as slowly as it wished, and still be worth watching for the ambience. However, a solidly plotted thriller soon emerged to underpin the show, set against the intriguing backdrop of Eden’s disastrous handling of the Suez crisis, and I found myself engrossed. Mid-way through, I was completely gripped, and the final episode hurtled up to soon.
All of the plot strands (well almost all) are resolved well in the final episode (the “almost” being because I’m not sure Tom Kish’s suicide was fully explained). But for such a slick show, where previously there was not a hair out of place, and nothing overstated, where actions spoke for themselves, the execution felt messy. It came down to The Hour within The Hour, the titular news magazine, which had to have an episode that would represent the pinnacle of intelligent, informative and heartfelt reporting, but all of it was told through reactions: we had to see the tear in Bel’s eye, or the smile on Marnie’s lips to appreciate how touching or funny or pieces that appeared wooden or humourless were supposed to be. The “sketch” was dire, and Freddie’s speech to camera that brought the lights down was mawkish and naive. Perhaps most problematic of all, though, for a final episode was the lack of definition in the characters’ motivations, and consequence of their actions. Take, for example, Hector handing over the interview with Lord Elms. Did he do it out of fear for his own career, consideration for his wife, or generosity to Freddie? Was the result a triumphant call to arms for a new kind of TV journalism, or a ruinous waste of Elms’ dignified demolition of the government for a few seconds of indulgence?
Even with the show within a show (thankfully) over, the otherwise electrifying confrontation between Freddie and Clarence was impaired by the over-sentimental notion of the spy redeemed by a new journalism. No better way? “To defend what I believed in? I didn’t think so. Not until these last few months… Not until now.” A lack of time, or care, once again muddies the true motivations of Clarence’s treachery, as if all we can expect to be told is that he is a spy, and it matters now why.
Ultimately this mushiness impairs the finale, which is poor by comparison with its predecessors episodes. So whilst it is a good show, it feels disappointing because greater things were promised than ultimately, in the final hour, were realised. Which is a shame, because overall I’ve enjoyed the six hours of The Hour very much indeed.
About Simon Wood
E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...