The Hour Season 2 Blu-ray delivers stunning video and bad audio in this excellent Blu-ray release
In the second season of this behind-the-scenes British series about the early days of TV journalism, an investigation focuses on the mix of celebrity, sex and politics in the era of Cold War diplomacy.
For more about The Hour Season 2 and the The Hour Season 2 Blu-ray release, see the The Hour Season 2 Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on January 30, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
The original six episodes of the British series The Hour were written as a standalone unit, but no
one was ready to say goodbye to its lead trio of characters: Bel Rowley, the ambitious TV news
producer; Freddie Lyon, the idealistic reporter single-minded in his pursuit of the truth, whose
only other passion was his love for Bel; and Hector Madden, the married anchorman with the
wandering eye, coasting through life on good looks and charm. When the series finished airing
on August 23, 2011, the BBC announced that it had commissioned another six episodes from
series creator Abi Morgan, who had written the entire first season herself.
It took Morgan and several new writers, plus much of the original creative team, just under
sixteen months to bring The Hour Season 2 to television screens in the U.K. Broadcasts began on
November 12, 2012, with BBC America showing the episodes in the U.S. just two weeks after
their British debut. The series proved even more popular on this side of the Atlantic, its appeal
enhanced in no small part by frequent comparisons to Mad Men, although The Hour has little in
common with AMC's runaway hit beyond superior writing and a retro sense of fashion.
If you are a newcomer to The Hour, this is not the place to begin your acquaintance. The show is
loaded with intrigue, mysteries and "aha!" revelations, especially in the first season, which
revolved around a murky Cold War espionage plot. Season 2 can't be discussed without
revealing major spoilers for Season 1. I refer you to my review of Season 1, which is spoiler-free.
If you read anything past the first screenshot below, you have only yourself to blame.
Nine months have passed since the end of Season 1, and Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) has gained
in poise and confidence as she's overseen The Hour single-handedly, after the man who hired
her, Clarence Fendley, was exposed as a Soviet agent. With Hector Madden (Dominic West) as
its popular face, The Hour has steadily expanded its audience, despite competition from
"Undercover", a similar program mounted by the BBC's arch-rival, the ITV network. Freddie
Lyon (Ben Whishaw) has been abroad since he was fired from "The Hour". No one knows
exactly where he is currently, but Bel feels his absence keenly.
As Season 2 opens, Bel finally gets a new boss, Fendley's replacement: a low-key eccentric
named Randall Brown with a slight case of what is now called OCD (the reliable Peter Capaldi,
who played the obscenity-spewing civil servant of In the Loop). In his quietly unsettling way,
Brown tells Bel that The Hour has lost its edge, and he orders her to get it back. To that end,
Randall has arranged to have Freddie rehired (delighting Bel) and has made him co-anchor
(infuriating Hector). Having turned the place upside down in less than a day, Randall has
everyone guessing, except Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor), who still runs "The Hour's" foreign
desk. Lix worked with Randall previously in Spain, when Lix was a war photographer. She tells
Bel that they have a complicated history together, about which she'd rather not speak. The
exploration of that history becomes a major subplot in the latter half of the season.
Where Season 1 of The Hour focused on foreign affairs and international espionage, Season 2
finds its main focus closer to home. Bel has been trying to make sense of a marked rise in crime
in areas of London. She senses a story there, but can't yet find either a pattern or a cause. Her
concern is shared by one of Hector's former war buddies, who is now head of Scotland Yard's
vice squad, Commander Stern (Peter Sullivan). Stern sees the Yard's budget being cut in favor of
civil defense and responds by leaking confidential documents to his old army comrade so that the
"The Hour" can embarrass the government into restoring the cuts. It's not the last time the
program will find itself being manipulated by powerful players who have quickly adapted to the
brave new world of TV journalism.
One of the neighborhoods affected by the spiraling crime rise is the one where Freddie lived and
to which he has now returned with Camille (Lizzie Brocheré), the beautiful French girl who has
accompanied him back to England. As Freddie discovers when he rents a floor in his family
home to a newly arrived African doctor, Sey Ola (Adetomiwa Edun), and his fiancée, Sissy
Cooper (Lisa Greenwood), a staffer at "The Hour", at least some of the violence is the result of
nationalist hooligans attacking immigrants for "bastardizing" Britain and taking jobs from
whites. Freddie scores a journalistic coup by airing the issue on "The Hour", but he soon
discovers that there's more going on than just extremist rhetoric and racist teens. A sleazy local
named Pike (Morgan Watkins) is orchestrating the attacks, and his motives are economic, not
Soho is another area where crime has skyrocketed, much of it directed at women, because porn
and prostitution are centered there. But Soho is also home to glittering clubs like El Paradis,
where celebrities, including Hector Madden, mingle with highly placed government officials,
including Angus McCain (Julian Rhind-Tutt), who was "The Hour's" nemesis in Season 1.
Government ministers and top businessmen are also part of the mix. All of them are wined, dined
and provided with attractive female companionship by El Paradis' professionally genial
proprietor, Mr. Cilenti (Vincent Riotta), who always has a photographer standing by to snap
pictures of his noteworthy guests for the front page of the tabloids.
Freddie and Bel become interested in El Paradis after one of Cilenti's top girls, a dancer named
Kiki Delaine (Hannah Tointon), walks into a police station in a battered state and accuses Hector
Madden of beating her after she spent the night with him. After some delay, Hector is
exonerated, but his colleagues want to know who attacked Kiki and why she lied. The further
they dig into Cilenti and El Paradis, the more layers of deception they find. It's not just a club;
it's the center of something. But what? Kiki Delaine quickly goes missing, and her best friend,
another dancer named Rosa (Hannah John-Kamen), is too terrified to talk to reporters.
Meanwhile, as 1957 advances into 1958, Lix Storm keeps telling her colleagues at "The Hour"
that nuclear proliferation is the issue of the era. This was the period when Britain was testing its
own hydrogen bomb, which ultimately led to a mutual defense treaty with the United States that
gave Britain access to American nuclear technology. Lix, with her personal experience of war,
understands the ramifications better than her younger colleagues. By the end of Season 2, they
will finally have become interested in her issue, but by a circuitous and unexpected route.
As with Season 1 of The Hour, personal relationships intertwine with work and add both depth
and drama to the labors of gathering news. Sissy Chapman's engagement to the immigrant doctor
is a bitter pill for her colleague Isaac Wengrow (Joshua McGuire), who carried a torch for Sissy
throughout Season 1 and, having taken over Freddie's desk for the last nine months, was just
gaining the confidence to speak up. Alas, too late. As for Freddie, his return to "The Hour" stirs
unresolved feelings for Bel, and the new lady in his life, Camille, cannot help but notice.
Meanwhile, Bel is wooed by a producer, Bill Kendal (Tom Burke), from "The Hour's" rival
program, "Undercover", but is Kendal's interest personal or professional? Even Kendal seems
unsure at times.
While he's romancing Bel, Kendal is also pursuing Hector Madden to jump ship from "The
Hour" and become the new face of "Undercover". The fit would be ideal now that Hector's wife,
Marnie (Oona Chaplin), has embarked on her own TV career as the host of a popular cooking
show on ITV, where her name recognition as the wife of a famous news reader has helped make
her the very emblem of domesticity. What Kendal doesn't know is that the Madden marriage is a
sham. Hector's constant womanizing had strained it to the breaking point, and his arrest over
Kiki Delaine was the last straw. Marnie now treats him like a lodger, while at work, Hector's
performance is slipping, as drink and late hours playing the man about town take their toll.
Behind Hector's golden smile, his whole life is falling apart.
Much more than in Season 1, executive producer Morgan and her co-writers have structured the
six episodes of Season 2 so that each one contains its own dramatic mini-arc and offers an
interim conclusion. It's an approach that gives the second season a much quicker start, and the
momentum never slows thereafter. Like the first season, the second builds to a climactic
broadcast of "The Hour" that pays off everything that precedes it. The only thing I can safely say
is that you won't want to look away for a second.
The Hour acquired a new cinematographer in Season 2, David Luther, and the Blu-ray discs from
BBC acquired a new format, in that they have been AVC-encoded at 1080p instead of 1080i.
Whether these two changes are connected is something I could not determine. As noted in my
Season 1 review, 1080p encoding in British TV releases usually
indicates origination on film, but
there is nothing to indicate that The Hour changed its shooting format between seasons.
Regardless of the shooting format, the image on these discs is every bit as sharply detailed as the
image for Season 1, with equally deep blacks and appropriate contrast levels. What is different in
Season 2 is the palette, which is significantly more varied and saturated, making room for the
flushed hues of the nightlife at El Paradis as well as the candy-colored surfaces of Marnie
Madden's cooking show, which appears ahead of its time in its Sixties-style decor. The grimy
Soho backstreets and the subdued offices at "The Hour" retain the muted color scheme familiar
from Season 1, but overall Season 2 presents a more intriguing and varied feast for the eye.
Video noise is almost wholly absent, and artifacts of any kind were nowhere to be seen.
For Season 2 of The Hour, its stereo soundtrack has been supplied as DTS-HD MA 2.0 (as
compared to Season 1's PCM)—and something went wrong with the mastering of several
episodes. On most stereo tracks, whether or not they are specifically encoded for surround,
playback through an advanced decoding system such as DPL IIx reliably anchors voices to the
center and spreads effects and music across the front soundstage and, depending on the track, to
the surrounds. This is the case on episodes 1, 2 and 4, although the degree of surround ambiance
is limited by the original mix.
On episodes 3 and 5, however, there is some sort of phase error in the mix that causes the
surround decoder to shift voices back and forth between the center speaker and the surrounds. It's
a huge distraction, and I recommend watching these episodes in simple stereo, with all surround
decoding switched off. (Indeed, I cannot report whether this problem affects episode 6, because
by that time I had switched to stereo and forgot to re-engage the surround decoding.)
On those episodes where the mix is correctly in phase—on those where it isn't, in basic stereo
mode—the dialogue is clearly recorded, and the incidental music by Kevin Sargent (The Last
Days of Lehman Brothers) is effective in setting the appropriate tone, particularly for those
episodes that end with montages of the various characters in their separate situations.
Behind the Scenes (720p; 1.78:1; 12:22): Though relatively brief, this "making of"
documentary is both entertaining and informative, containing interviews with all the
major players in front of and behind the camera. Caution, however, as the participants
speak candidly about the entire season's story arc. Do not watch this featurette without
first finishing the episodes.
Trailers: At startup, each of the two discs plays trailers that can be skipped with the
chapter forward button and are not available once the disc loads. Disc 1 plays trailers for
the new Ripper Street, Copper: Season
One and BBC America. Disc 2 plays a trailer for
Spies of Warsaw.
As of this writing, no third season has been announced for The Hour. It wouldn't surprise me if
there isn't one. The British are much better than we are at knowing when a series has run its
course, and creator Abi Morgan provided an appropriate, if not always happy, resolution to the
many personal dramas deployed throughout Season 2 of The Hour. The issues remain vital and
relevant, the performances are first rate, and the story (more accurately, stories) are never less
than intriguing and engaging. Highly recommended.
BBC Home Entertainment is releasing The Hour: Season Two on Blu-ray. The critically acclaimed, Golden Globe-nominated series stars Dominic West, Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, Peter Capaldi, Hannah Tointon and Tom Burke and follows a group of BBC journalists in 1950s ...