Dominic West as Hector Madden, dozing in his police cell. It wasn't a good week for him. Photograph: BBC
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The Hour: series 2, episode 2

A morality tale featuring a delicious blend of vice, corruption, pornography and cooking.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching "The Hour" on Wednesday nights on BBC2. Don't read ahead if you haven't watched it yet - contains spoilers!

Catch up on last week's instalment here

This was a morality tale. In fact, because this is The Hour and nothing is ever straightforward, it was several morality tales at the same time. You could take your pick, really: fascists and free speech; pornography and corruption; innocence and loyalty - this episode had it all.

The main business of this episode was Hector’s spectacular fall after his drunken, lecherous pride. He ends up languishing in a cell after being (wrongfully) accused of beating up a Soho callgirl. The use of contrast here was superb – at the start, he’s the bumptious dinner party host, swilling down cocktails and rolling his eyes at his wife. Twenty minutes later, we see him in a police interview, hands shaking so much he can’t even put a cigarette between his lips.

The breakout performance of this episode was undoubtedly Oona Chaplin as Hector’s long-suffering wife, Marnie. Rather than dash straight down to the police station to try and exonerate him, she suddenly finds a spine and spends the night on her own at home before successfully auditioning for some producers to get her own cookery show. It’s a delicious bit of plotting – not only has Hector been humiliated by his arrest, he’s now not even the most popular television personality in his own house. When she does finally turn up to take him home, it’s a different Marnie wrapped in that expensive fur coat. No more will she put up and shut up with Hector’s antics – she’s going to drive the car if she wants to, while firmly telling him that theirs is now a marriage for appearances only. I look forward to Marnie discovering feminism next week, taking a lover who actually likes her, and finally giving Hector the boot.

Marnie: soon-to-be professional domestic goddess. Photograph: BBC

As I mentioned last week, The Hour has really struck lucky when it comes to its scheduling. The news agenda might have moved on now from the perpetual “BBC in crisis” stuff of ten days ago, but when Anna Chancellor’s Lix declares exasperatedly “Is this what we have to look forward to? Continuous controversy?” you can’t help feeling she’s on to something.

The controversy she refers to is Freddie’s determination to interview a fascist on The Hour. The debate the programme’s journalists have about it is strikingly similar to the arguments made when BNP leader Nick Griffin appeared on the BBC’s Question Time in 2009 – Bel and Hector feel its “playing into Mosley’s hands to let them join the debate”, while Freddie thinks they shouldn’t patronise their viewers, and rather “give him the rope to hang himself if he wants”. In an example of how The Hour rather neatly blends the personal drama with the political storylines, the fascist Freddie interviews just so happens to be the one that’s been terrorising his wife, and the “immigrant” who gives the other side of the story is Hour secretary Sissy’s boyfriend, and Freddie’s lodger. The latter, Sey Ola (whose struggle between love of freedom and hatred of his persecutors is portrayed brilliantly by Adetomiwa Edun) eventually delivers the standout speech of the episode – telling Freddie that it’s because the fascists have the freedom to say such hateful things about him that he knows British democracy is strong, and that it’s where he wants to make his home. Next time someone makes the “no platform” argument, I think they should be required to watch that clip and reconsider their position.

After a slightly whiney start last week, this was a good episode for Romola Garai’s Bel. She did some serious investigating of the Soho pornography scene, flirted extensively with her opposite number on ITV’s Uncovered (who turns out to be a widower who can be prevailed upon to bring her chips late at night), and makes friends with Freddie again – most of which she achieves while wearing a very clinging and extremely attractive emerald green cocktail dress. This excellent little snippet of dialogue gives me hope too that Abi Morgan has plans for the future of Bel and Freddie’s complicated relationship:

“Where have you been?”

“Buying pornography. You?

“Picking up fascists.”

“Marvellous.”

A slightly more disappointing aspect of this week's episode was the readiness with which the woman accusing Hector revealed her real motive - she was actually trying to punish her lover, the deputy commissioner of police, the stern-jawed Commander Stern. His corruption notwithstanding, I felt as if we should have had to guess at that for at least another episode, but perhaps it was important to reveal it now in order to facilitate greater plot machinations in the future. The jury's out on this one.

Commander Stern, looking stern. Photograph: BBC

Incidentally, my prayers for more of Ben Whishaw and less of his beard were answered this week. We even got to see him, clean-shaven, do the journalistic equivalent of shadow-boxing, practicing his presenting skills on invisible interviewees. Lovely stuff, although his French wife is starting to grate slightly. For the second time in two episodes she appeared mostly on screen wearing just her knickers and an over-large jumper. I think this is supposed to tell us that she is “bohemian”, compared to the English women who keep their stockings on at all times.

Another interesting revelation this week – Peter Capaldi can do sex appeal. His languid, drawled “You’re wearing a cocktail dress – have I missed the party?” and Bel’s blushing reaction perhaps sets up an intriguing new relationship, although I must admit I’d much rather see more of him arguing with Anna Chancellor.

Yes, Peter Capaldi can do brooding sex appeal. I was surprised too. Photograph: Getty Images

Chancellor remains, for me, the best actor in this thing, and she also delivered the line that neatly wrapped all the morality tales together:

“Heroes or villains, we’re all somewhere in between. The good do bad things and the bad are sometimes kind to their mothers.”

Meanwhile, a newly-liberated Hector returns to his favourite Soho haunt and demands a table “at the front – I've got nothing to hide.”

So, the moral of the story? Nobody ever learns their lesson.

I'll be blogging "The Hour" each week - check back next Thursday morning for the next installment, or bookmark this page

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

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Inside Syria's unending siege, civilians, not soldiers, are the victims

In Aleppo, civilian strife is just another tool of war.

Maria is a young mother who lives in Aleppo. She missed her opportunity to flee when the Syrian-Turkish border was closed to all but the seriously injured in early 2015. With her two children – Fadi, aged five, and Sama, aged nine – she stayed in the city.

Maria’s husband was killed by a barrel bomb that fell on their neighbourhood in 2014. After that, she took the children and moved in with her husband’s family. Her married brother-in-law asked her to be his second wife. She accepted the offer for the sake of security. This year he, too, was killed when a bomb fell on his shop.

Speaking to her on Skype, I referred to Aleppo as a city under siege and she quickly corrected me. “The city is not under siege,” she said. “We are human beings under siege.” Maria clearly felt offended by my words. She moved the conversation on to the images of a young Syrian boy, sitting in an ambulance, which have appeared on newspaper front pages around the world – a symbol of the human suffering in Aleppo. “What can I say? His silence and shock reflected all the pain of Syrians.”

Tearfully, she described her living conditions. “There are two widows, with three children, who live all together with our old mother-in-law. The good people around us try to give us food and clothing.”

She added: “Before, I used to cook a big meal for me and my family-in-law every day. My late husband was well off.” The children don’t go to school but they get some lessons at home – Maria used to work as an Arabic language teacher at a high school in the city.

The household’s other widow, Safaa, joined our conversation. “Since the first day of Eid ul-Fitr [the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, this year on 6 July], the siege began in Aleppo. There was no food or water. Children cried and could not sleep because of hunger.”

Safaa made food from pulses that she had managed to save, particularly lentils. As the area around the city is rich in olives and well known for producing za’atar herbs, the extended family depended on reserves of these for nutrition. “Al-za’atar al-akhdar [a dish of the herb, olive oil and a few other basic ingredients] has saved the reputation of Aleppo and its people,” Safaa joked, and both women laughed.

Then, suddenly, the Skype connection was lost and they both disappeared.

Another Aleppo native to whom I spoke, Ayham, described his desperation as he finished his engineering degree before fleeing Syria. “I am my mother’s only son, so I didn’t want to do military service, and I left, as I felt so insecure,” he told me. He had been living in Shahbaa, a neighbourhood controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while completing one application after another to study abroad. Eventually he was successful and he has now made it to a university in Europe.

Ayham’s parents were pushing him to leave because they knew that he was part of an underground anti-Assad protest movement. “There are two Aleppos,” he explained. “One is free and the other is controlled by Assad’s regime. Both are very unsafe . . . Living hungry was easier than living under threat.”

There are roughly two million people in the city, most of them women and children. Since the second day of the siege, there have been no fruit or vegetables available and only a few bakeries are producing bread. Compounding the starvation, the bombing has been intense, hitting hospitals, ambulances, blood banks and the Syrian Civil Defence base. Assad’s regime is targeting vital resources for civilians.
Even after rebel forces, in co-operation with the Islamist faction Jaish al-Fateh, managed partly to break the siege and open a new road into the south of the city through the Ramoussa area, they could not bring in enough food. The little that made it inside immediately sent prices soaring. Civilians could not use this road to escape – jets were targeting the routes in and out.

The eastern areas of Aleppo, which are still under the opposition’s control, are also still without aid, because of how risky it is to get there. All the talk coming out of the city today is about decisive battles between Assad’s forces and the rebels in the southern quarters. Civilians put the recent air strikes down to these conflicts – it has long been believed that when the regime loses ground, it intensifies its bombing as revenge, and to send a message to those who continue to resist.

People in Aleppo and the north-eastern territories of Syria are suffering and dying. They have no other choice. It seems that both Isis and the Assad regime are trying as hard as they can to destroy Syrian civilians, whether through direct attacks or by gradual starvation.

There is little information available, as both sides attempt to prevent the media from documenting life under siege. Isis accuses journalists of being agents of Assad, while the regime portrays reporters as terrorists. Pro-Assad social media accounts have alleged that Mahmoud Raslan, who took the footage of the boy in the ambulance, has links with terrorism. The same channels have yet to say much about Raslan’s subject – Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old whom he showed, bloodied and stunned, after the boy was pulled from the rubble caused by multiple air strikes. Omran’s ten-year-old brother, Ali, has since died from injuries sustained in another attack.

After four hours, I heard back from Maria. She apologised for losing the connection and asked me not to worry about her. “All of us are fine. We did not die yet,” she said. Her daughter, Sama, has not been to school since last year, she told me, and now studies only Arabic poetry. They have no books, so she depends on the verses that Maria knows by heart. Sama misses her school and her friends, and though she remembers their faces she has forgotten their names.

Maria has made a doll for her out of scraps of fabric and they call it Salwa. Together, they sing Syrian folk songs for the doll, in particular one that goes: “Hey Salwa, why are you crying? I need a friend.” Maria is resigned. As she says, “We are back in the Stone Age.” 

K S is a Syrian journalist, based in Sweden since 2014

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser