Sunday, 16 December 2012

Menswear and The Hour.

Previously: Bel Rowley and Freddie Lyon.

I should probably save myself some time and just rename my blog "Not all suits look the same, you know!" since that's what I always seem to end up writing about. My favourite movies for costume design are often ones where the characters wear nominally similar outfits like uniforms (Alien; Master & Commander) or suits (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Inception), thus forcing the costumers to be extra thoughtful about differentiating each character's personal style. Since The Hour is a 1950s office drama it definitely falls into this category in terms of menswear, although the women do get a little more leeway. In fact the costume designers took pains to make sure each of the female characters has a very distinct dress sense -- even to the point of anachronism, in the case of Bel's unrealistically glamourous office attire. For the men this job was a little trickier since they were hampered by the ubiquity of the modern suit, but they still managed to include a great deal of character-specific variety within those parameters.
When he first appears, Hector seems like the ultimate upstanding English gentleman: masculine, confident, and soberly dressed. However, part of these assumptions stem from the way he clashes with the far more eccentric and scruffy-looking Freddie, a relationship that changes drastically in season 2. Actually, Hector has a very relaxed way of wearing a suit. He looks comfortable, and wears rather more casual styles than many of his peers -- paler, and often made from thicker, softer fabrics, which fits in with his past as a sportsman and a soldier. Freddie's transition from youthful rebel to ambitious adult journalist is illustrated explicitly by his new wardrobe of narrow, black suits, and as soon as he starts wearing them he begins to stand taller and have better posture. Not so with Hector, who was always comfortable in a waistcoat and tie -- and looks it. I think the difference is that Hector is happy to look conventional and has never really thought about dressing any other way, whereas Freddie's new appearance of conventionality is just a veneer he puts on for his own purposes.
Angus McCain (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi) are the two most conservative dressers in The Hour. Randall's introduction in Season 2 was very exciting for me because I loved Peter Capaldi's infamous performance as Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It, plus Randall's presence gave us more insight into Lix Storm's backstory. But McCain has probably had a more interesting character arc because he's been around for two seasons. Up until the end of Season 2 I'd have said that his severe appearance was tied into his characterisation as an empathy-free government drone, representing the antagonistic relationship between the Eden administration and the journalists of The Hour. His wardrobe is restricted to dark grey suits and sombre ties, but a seemingly minor detail in the final episode has caused me to suspect he's a little different from the other government men.
One of the things that was obvious about McCain from quite early on is that he's gay and (necessarily, since it's the 1950s) in the closet. In Season 2 this comes into play in a far bigger way, as he becomes one of the victims of Raphael Cilenti's blackmail schemes. The threat of blackmail seems to mark a breaking-off point for McCain's relationship with the government, as he realises that the people around him may be so corrupt as to be no longer functional. It's not precisely clear whether he actually leaves his government post or not, but either way I wouldn't interpret it as a moral decision so much as just a continuation of his opportunistic attitude. Helping blow the whistle on the widespread corruption among his colleagues allows him to slip back into the shadows, and possibly begin a new career as an agent or crisis-manager for people like Kiki Delaine.
"There comes a time when one wants to stop hiding," says McCain when he finally decides to switch sides and speak candidly to The Hour. I can't help but think there's a double meaning to his attitude in this scene, particularly once you take costuming into account. Instead of the white pocket square and dark tie he typically wears, he goes for a vibrant red tie and handkerchief, the only spot of colour in the shot. I picked up on this immediately, not just because it was unusually eye-catching but because in the early 20th century, a red tie was a kind of undercover signal for gay men. It certainly makes me wonder if his abandonment of his government loyalties and his possible career change will allow him to be more free in his personal life. Perhaps his rigid slate-grey suits and dour expression were a costume all along, rather than an accurate representation of his own personal taste.
I have no way of knowing if anyone else notices or cares about Randall Brown's suits, but I know I love them. They're agonisingly staid to the point of fetishism -- possibly an offshoot of his OCD, which pops up whenever he's stressed. His pocket square is always unused; a perfect white line bisecting the near-black of his suit jacket. He's even more minimalist than McCain. (N.B. I noticed that McCain and Randall both wear the same glasses, which led me to wonder if they were NHS frames. Well, I did a little research and they are not. It appears that The Hour used vintage-inspired frames for most of the characters who wear spectacles.)
Norman Pike is a relatively minor character, but his style is such that he has a far greater visual impact than many of the characters who receive more screentime. He epitomises 1950s East End gangster style, wearing an oversized camel coat, meticulously-tailored suits and a patterned evening scarf. I love his costumes because they're such a brilliant example of the way fashions change but people's attitudes towards them do not. He's a criminal who works for a crooked nightclub owner, and he spends his new disposable income on the 1950s equivalent of status-symbol bling: a sharp suit and a fistful of signet rings. Actually the signet rings may well be my favourite thing of all because they are such a literal example of "the more things change...": guys like this still wear them today. The rich man's knuckle-duster.

(P.S. You should all feel grateful that I didn't title this post "50 Shades of Grey Suits". It was a close-run thing, OK?)

To be continued with the womenswear of The Hour.

6 comments:

  1. I love your posts on The Hour, they're perfect. Great catch on McCain's red tie. That last episode made him seem instantly awesome-for-future-series. I've been trawling the internet for the last couple of hours trying to figure out if he's based on a real person - I suspect he might be, but I haven't found any obvious ones yet (just a little research challenge to your readership).

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  2. love reading your insight about all of this! I really didn't notice a lot of these things while watching.

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  3. I particularly like Randall's outfits. Capaldi plays him as a man who's always controlled but never ever relaxed; the precision and rigidity in his suit choices are a perfect fit.

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  4. Excellent post, and I especially like the attention you gave Randall. He is an interesting character and his costuming reflects it I think. I look forward to reading about the women!

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  5. Great posts! I always pay more attention to the womenswear, and apart from Freddie's obvious change from season 1 and 2, I haven't paid that much mind to the menswear. This was a bit of an eye opener - especially those bits about McCain and Randall!

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