BBC's 'The Hour' Is No 'Mad Men'

The 1950s period piece isn't all that accurate

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Tomorrow night the BBC will premier another one of its hallmark period piece dramas: The Hour. A six part series, the show chronicles 1950s British television media as it transitioned from feel-good newsreels to covering deeper topics. Set in the post-war West, it reminds us of another much-loved mid-century period show: Mad Men. And The New York Times' Alessandra Stanely thinks this is a great sign. "Any period piece set in the 1950s is bound to look a lot like Mad Men, and this narrative also unfolds through an amber haze of cigarette smoke, whiskey and social taboos. Yet unlike the many sterile Mad Men knockoffs," she continues,  "this BBC series isn't a pale imitation of anything else on television." But does it really possess that same accuracy and attention to detail, gripping story lines, and acting that made Americans fall in love with Don Draper & Co.?

Mad Men may bring drama to the Madison avenue, but in between the trysts and marital issues, the show presents a very accurate representation of a 1960s ad agency; where Mad Men succeeds, The Hour fails, explains The Guardian's Lynne Reid Banks, who would know, as one of the first British female broadcast journalists. "Younger people imagining The Hour to be a true representation of how TV news looked and worked at that time--supposing it to be the TV news equivalent to Mad Men--risk being seriously misled. The devil is in the detail, and pretty well every detail is wrong."  From the clothing to the accents--details Mad Men nails--The Hour gets it wrong, continues Banks.

The show, though, does have that same high level drama and production quality we see in Mad Men, apparently. "The plot twists of The Hour can at times be puzzling, but the series is never dull. If only there were a few more minutes in The Hour," argues Stanley. Chicago Hollywood's Brian thinks the look--it's shot with neo-noir lighting--and strong cast make the series worth it. "The production values, the cast, the subject matter--they all keep the viewer interested even as the dialogue and the plotting disappoint."

Maybe the BBC isn't as great at period dramas as we thought, suggests Banks, in a provocative takeaway: "Judging by The Hour ... they can only do it if the period is far enough in the past so that nobody now living remembers it."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.