sat 20/07/2024

Dancing on the Edge, Series Finale, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Dancing on the Edge, Series Finale, BBC Two

Dancing on the Edge, Series Finale, BBC Two

Poliakoff's slow-burner about jazz and high society goes out with a bang

Now you has jazz: 'syncopated beats and riffs decorated the unfolding narrative'

Stephen Poliakoff's slow-burning drama had turned into a propulsive whodunnit by this final episode, hurtling towards a resolution with panache and surprise. The five-part mini-series about a black jazz band in early 1930s high society has had the feel of an exploratory score at times. With syncopated beats and riffs decorating its unfolding narrative, the occasional scene and detail has seemed superfluous. But Poliakoff has had his reasons.

By episode five, almost every character had a motive for murdering Jessie (Angel Coulby), the lead singer, or at least assisting in a cover-up.

This episode juggled the escape of innocent band leader and murder suspect, Louis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), to safety from the police, alongside the search for the real killer. As Stanley (Matthew Goode), ever the dashing hero, helped Louis to hide, suspicion gathered around other characters. Masterson (John Goodman, pictured below), the wealthy American, looked increasingly shifty, buying up Stanley's music magazine with Lavinia (Jacqueline Bisset), the part-time recluse, and lavishing positions and gifts on everyone. He had already been implicated in the beating-up of a young girl. But was it him? Sarah (Janet Montgomery), the photographer, suggested he was protecting Julian. But why? It was Lavinia who came up with an answer: Masterson had homoerotic feelings for his young employee. More scandal!

The characters finally revealed their depths and their flaws. Sarah, Louis's loyal lover, gave the police a lead to help find him, while Pamela, the It girl, demonstrated surprising concern and ingenuity as a member of the fugitive party. Prejudices surfaced with alarming speed, with the apparently open-minded Lavinia deciding that tragedy was "the likely outcome" of society accepting "a negro band".

Julian (Tom Hughes) became even more - and quite brilliantly - strange. Rather than mourning Jessie, he thought about shoes: he must get new ones so that people would think he was important. There were telling clues (on more familiar Poliakoff territory) as to why he might be unhinged: he grew up with an anti-Semitic, uncaring mother. When Julian found a gun in his house, it was a clear sign that he was the killer. To unsettle Masterson, Julian took him out for bangers and mash, and shot himself. Hughes's performance was spectacular, revealing glints of turmoil behind a boyish exterior - he's a talent to watch. As for Louis, he and the band eventually caught a train to Dover, and soon Louis was looking as composed as ever, drinking in Marseille on the way to the US.

The final episode boasted cinematic photography and plenty of swishing gowns and three-piece suits (essential wear even if you're going to be spending the day in a damp basement with a runaway), soundtracked by the warming songs of the jazz band alternating with a barrage of strings for the tense moments. In Dancing on the Edge, Poliakoff has constructed a believable world, spanning turbulent class divides, and has shown how breaking convention (and the march of progress) come at the risk of losing the safety and comfort of the old ways. With so many ideas here, surely no-one could now accuse this writer of being slow to tell a story.

  • The final episode of Dancing on the Edge is repeated at 22.30 on Sunday on BBC Two
To unsettle Masterson, Julian took him out for bangers and mash, and shot himself


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Afraid I must agree with the opening review on theartsdesk of this one, than the closing one. It was tosh, utter tosh. Stylishly made tosh, no denying that. Characters who looked like refugees from an early Evelyn Waugh novel, they - their little enclosed worlds, their foibles - would have struggled off the page, let alone the screen. Try looking anything except faux naif when you're delivering lines of this emptiness. Can't see what suspense there was when it's been obvious since ep two or thereabouts that Julian was very many sandwiches short of a picnic. Just that few in the script seemed to notice, or indeed care (except for his impossible sister). Neither did we.

I can never understand when reading reviews why people who like something are quite mild mannered and those that don't seem to suggest than anyone who disagrees is not quite all there! Well, if that's the case I'm mild mannered and happily a bit different. I don't like all action, or too much in the way of graphics so the atmosphere, music and costumes I found very pleasing and the story chugged along at a reasonable pace, in my opinion. Yes, there were a few scenes that I did query eg. it was meant to be winter yet all the trees were in full foliage, but overall, it kept me interested all the way through, and it's not often I can stay with a serial drama for more than a couple of weeks.

I'm generally quite partial to Mr Poliakoff's Oxbridge soaps. Good actors in beautiful frocks being slowly enigmatic in the name of social justice...Ever the optimist, I ignored the nay sayers and stuck with this one until half way through the final episode. At which point I simply couldn't take anymore. This was so mannered it made Kabuki theatre look like CCTV. What was going on with all those Sean of the Dead 'background artists' & sub Kafka supporting players? In fairness, the principles did a valiant job injecting industrial quantities of thespy diffidence into proceedings (with the exception of John Goodman who seemed to have stumbled in from another production altogether and to be there under sufference). Even they couldn't save a script that somehow managed to be simultaneously slight, clunky and repetitive without ever actually moving the action along. I'm not sure whether Laura Silverman watched the same series. I certainly wouldn't apply the words "believable world","whodunnit" or "propulsive" to the four and a half episodes I saw. I'm afraid I must also "accuse this writer of being slow to tell a story" and for doing so with the aid of a trowel. What a disappointment.

After a really intriguing and promising beginning, its final episode was incomprehensible and utter tosh. Something like this is always bafflling leaving one wondering how talented and experienced individuals cannot see how awful it is. Surely amongst the production team there will have been those who recognised this. Was it just me that couldn't understand what they were all doing at the bowling club? And this was just one of many other absurd moments. What a sad ending to something which began with such promise.

I thought this was a very rich and satisfying drama that never let you settle into it, keeping you on your toes both in terms of its style and its direction. For something that moved rather slowly it was packed with ideas and we often had to rewind because we'd missed something. A crystalline masterpiece the like of which I hadn't imagined seeing on British television at all.

This was Gosford Park without the horses. The writer seems to think that prolixity in itself amounts to serious exploration of serious issues. What puzzles me is how Poliakoff always manages to persuade his patrons that gobbling up so many TV hours with (apparently) luxury production values is good value for money.

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