music friday: led zeppelin edition
by request: hearts and minds

candidate for binge-watching: dancing on the edge

It’s not appropriate, with many shows today, to treat them as parts of our weekly viewing. Binge-watching is upon us, and it occurs to me I ought to single out certain series that would make for good binge-watching. Thus, “Candidates for Binge-Watching”.

Dancing on the Edge is a BBC mini-series from earlier this year that turned up on Starz in the U.S. in October. It was created by Stephen Poliakoff, and I’ll have to expose my ignorance here, since I didn’t know his work. He is highly regarded in England, especially for his television writing. Dancing on the Edge takes place in London in the early 1930s, and uses a focus on a jazz band to examine issues of race and class as they play out within the story of the band. Poliakoff had done some research on the topic while filming an earlier mini-series, The Lost Prince, and was fascinated by the interest taken in jazz by, among others, the Duke of Kent and the Prince of Wales. While the rest of society fought through the depression, royalty and the well-to-do found the new sound of jazz to be a thrill, and integrated the music and the artists into their lives.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the lead, Louis Lester, leader of the band at the center of the tale. By now I assume everyone knows that Chiwetel Ejiofor improves anything he participates in. Here, his style and inner strength are captivating, and as things go wrong for Louis, Ejiofor manages to portray both that strength and the fears of what might lie ahead. A huge cast of British (I assume) actors largely unknown to me help create a fine acting ensemble, especially Matthew Goode as a music writer and promoter, and Angel Coulby and Wunmi Mosaku as singers in the band. Some more familiar names also turn up: Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy), John Goodman, Jane Asher, and best of all, Jacqueline Bisset as Lady Cremone. Poliakoff, as writer and director, and the cast, help make the large cast of characters more than an ensemble … we get to know most of them a lot better than you might expect from a five-episode series.

Some critics complained about the leisurely pace of the series, and not everyone was impressed with the jazz music, which never sounded all that different from the boring stuff it was replacing. Coulby and Mosaku made up for a lot of that, though. Hard times eventually come to Louis, and the upper crust that were his friends start to fade out of the picture, leaving Louis feeling paranoid and alone. Ejiofor makes this very intense; he is the best thing about Dancing on the Edge.

I should point out the look of the series, which is gorgeous. There is also a sixth episode, which I didn’t watch. For that reason, I can’t comment on it too much, except to say that it is apparently more of an addendum in the manner of a DVD extra, than it is a continuation of the story.

Dancing on the Edge has been nominated for three Golden Globes: Best Miniseries, Best Actor (Ejiofor), and Best Supporting Actress (Bisset). I would never have discovered the series, except recently we started getting Starz … not by anything we did, it just turned up one day.

Grade for series: A-.

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