(N.B. This post is mostly about costumes so I've tried to keep it as spoiler-free as possible. There are a couple of minor characterisation spoilers, but nothing plot-related for either season.)
I recently mainlined the entire six-episode first season of The Hour, and it quickly rocketed to the top of my list of Best Historical Dramas Ever. Basically, it is flawless. I think it's fair to say that I'm pretty easy when it comes to overtly feminist historical dramas, but while The Bletchley Circle is great, The Hour goes a lot deeper than a three-episode crime show could ever manage. On top of working with the intriguing premise of the birth of TV journalism, the main characters are all beautifully three-dimensional and interact with the same levels of humour and emotional complexity as seen in The Good Wife.
I love the way The Hour manages to integrate an obsessive attention to historical detail with a few necessary elements of romanticisation. They sourced period-specific pencils for the characters to use on set, but at the same time the basic concept of the show relies upon a 28-year-old woman being the producer of the BBC's flagship news programme. Obviously in 1956 this would be impossible but The Hour makes it effortlessly believable, and Bel's relationship with the two male leads -- Freddie the writer and Hector the presenter -- is the heart and soul of the show. As for historical detail, The Hour bears most of the hallmarks of a classic thriller about journalism, censorship and government conspiracies, and the topics Freddie and Bel investigate are very well chosen. The first season focuses on Cold War paranoia in London while the Suez Crisis rages on overseas, and I'm already obsessed with the amount of historical detail going in the background of season 2. Freddie, Bel and Hector are currently looking into corruption and vice in Soho, and we're already starting to see hints of Rachmanism and precursers to the Profumo Affair -- even though in 1957, all that was still unknown to the general public.
The mid-50s are a great period for costume design because this was the point when personal style really became A Thing, particularly for women. As well as the classic image of the 1950s housewife with her wardrobe of frothy skirts and brightly-coloured cocktail dresses, this was the advent of fashions specifically aimed at women in the workplace. And while most of the main characters in The Hour are career-driven adults, there are still occasional appearances from 1950s teen subcultures like Teddy Boys or leather-clad rockers. It's interesting to look at the aesthetic of The Bletchley Circle and compare it to The Hour, since both seem authentic and yet are so obviously different. The Bletchley Circle takes place four years earlier than The Hour and the characters are still rooted in the styles of wartime rationing, so they look very drab when compared to richer and more image-conscious women like Bel Rowley or Marnie Madden.
When it comes to costuming, Freddie and Bel are a real odd-couple pair. In season 1 Freddie's slightly scruffy appearance is all part of his role as a maverick at the BBC, and indicates his refusal to buy into the kind of conventionality Hector Madden effortlessly represents. Ben Whishaw's skinny frame lends itself well to gawkiness and youth, but Freddie is far from nervous. In fact he's kind of a bantamweight fighter, doggedly following dangerous stories well after any other journalist would have compromised or given up. Also, in the first season a lot more emphasis is put upon Freddie's attitude towards social class, both because he's far more sensitive to class differences at this point and because the main storyline is so closely tied up in the lifestyle of the British aristocracy.
Continued in the Menswear of The Hour.