The setting helps tremendously in highlighting these issues. In an early broadcast, anchor Hector Madden (The Wire's Dominic West, in his triumphant
return to television) flubs the framing of an investigative piece the up-jumped working-class reporter Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) did about the
difficulty West Indian immigrants have finding housing in London: He ends the segment with a depressing reaffirmation that in London "If you're white,
you're alright." The cast may be all-white, but they're aware of the problems of people who don't share their country of origin or skin tone.
Later, their producer, Bel Rowley (an unexpectedly tremendous Romola Garai), kills an interview Lyon gets with a grieving Cabinet
minister about a bill to abolish hanging in favor of a live interview Madden does with the Egyptian ambassador to the U.K. after Egypt seizes control of the Suez Canal, while Lyon
begins an investigation into the mysterious death of an academic. The compromises Bel has to make are real, and not just because the stories have real
impacts. Because the BBC operated under a Royal Charter, and because in 1956, the network was a year into its competition with the newly-created
independent competitor ITV, the approval of high government officials wasn't an immaterial concern, and Bel is doubly under pressure as a woman
There's a real virtue to the fact that the story begins with Bel in a position of power, rather than simply charting her upward trajectory. She can stumble as well as rise, at one point lecturing the show's secretary not to do little extras for the men on the show because "do you want to be taken seriously? Or forever be some stupid little marionette forever fluttering on the arm of every good-looking man in the BBC? First rule, don't make tea." While she
has a male mentor in the BBC director of news, Bel has decision-making authority over Hector and Freddie, an old friend with whom she's long plotted a
new kind of television show, only to beat him to the job of producer while he's stuck covering domestic news. "They're humoring you," Freddie lashes
out at Bel when he finds out she's got the job. "They don't want a woman. A woman is difficult, hysterical. And you can never really find one who'll
ever stay. Another couple of years and you'll probably want a baby." He doesn't actually believe any of it, but that doesn't mean he won't use her
insecurities to hurt her.
Hector's flirtation with Bel begins with a gentler bit of calculated sexism as they wait in a reception room. "I never understand women and magazines,"
he says as an opening gambit. "You only ever buy them for the pictures." Bel plays along: "You're so right," she says. "And those things called the novels.
Impossible. So many words." But there's a real poignancy to it: When he asks her for a drink to celebrate their new jobs together, Hector wants to know
why she lets government officials condescend to her, only to have her point out that he's asked her to a drink in a men's-only lounge. "Well, I'd love
to," she tells him, "but beyond that door, women are not allowed. What is it about you men? You always need a tiny corner where we can't quite reach
you." Even as he respects her as a gifted news executive and a liberated woman, Hector still woos her with touches of old-fashionedness, telling her,
"Military upbringing. Can't help it. I'm pathologically unable to see a woman walking in the rain without holding an umbrella over her." As Jimmy
McNulty on The Wire, West was deliberately a bit of a drunken slob, sexually, so it's easy to forget that he can be a seducer, capable of imbuing a
light grip on a woman's fingertips or a fumble at the edge of her skirt with a deep eroticism.