In The Hour, Golden Globe nominee Romola Garai’s challenges as an actress seem particularly close to the on-screen job responsibilities of her character, television producer Bel Rowley. She’s got to keep everything going, despite seemingly impossible balancing acts. She’s a pioneer several times over – a woman in the male-dominated world of journalism, creating an entirely new kind of television news program. Refusing to accept constricting social conventions, she stakes out new professional territory as well as embarking on an affair with her show’s news anchor, Hector Madden, played by fellow Globe nominee Dominic West.
Oh, and Bel’s got to produce this revolutionary news program in the midst of the breaking Suez Crisis, while her best friend Freddie Lyons (Ben Whishaw) is both jealous of her romance with Hector and ferreting out a deadly international conspiracy.
It’s all in a week’s work at The Hour.
Garai relished playing Bel, a part that series writer Abi Morgan said she crafted to combine “the beauty of Lauren Bacall, the wit of Katharine Hepburn, and the spirit of Rosalind Russell.”
Garai became fascinated by the all the contradictions in Bel’s character – contradictions that really can’t be separated from the pressures placed on women in Britain in the 1950s. Clearly, Garai’s aim was to engage those contradictions in her performance, and to view the show’s setting critically.
“I find a lot of the 1950s nostalgia, especially in terms of women, very dubious. This is a very morally conservative time, not a great time for women,” she told The Telegraph in an interview last year. “It was a dark time, I think. So I hope that The Hour explores that kind of ambiguity, because I think it’s easily overlooked.”
It’s not too far-fetched to think that part of The Hour’s appeal for Garai can be found in the actress’s own family background. Her mother was a journalist, and her great-grandfather, a Hungarian immigrant, was a founder of the Keystone Press Agency, a photo service and archive.
It’s been a busy year for Garai, who also starred in the British television series The Crimson Petal and The White as a Victorian era prostitute.
The actress, who is also known for her roles in the BBC’s Emma and the film Atonement, appears on her way to becoming a household name.
“I think it would be amazing if Romola doesn’t become a British movie star,” said director Stephen Poliakoff in 2009, when he cast her as the lead in another period political thriller, Glorious 39, set right before the outbreak of World War II.
At the time of the movie’s release, Poliakoff told Wales Online, “I think Romola’s the next Kate Winslet, and I think she will be dominating British cinema.”
As it happens, Winslet is one of Garai’s competitors for a Golden Globe this Sunday.
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