TV Review – Edge of Darkness

TV Heaven

(originally published 1/9/03 in TVS Magazine)

Recently, the Radio Times did one of those typically Summer page-filling opinion pieces declaring the best 30 programmes ever made. Whilst it contained the odd bit of gossip-centred controversy (what, no I Claudius?), it was good to acknowledge the presence of perhaps the BBC’s best ever drama: Edge of Darkness, which has recently been made available on DVD (BBC Worldwide).

Not long ago, the BBC made a successful drama called State of Play which naturally drew many comparisons to Edge of Darkness. The BBC – and other TV companies – probably could make ‘em like that again, but it would take a hell of a lot of effort – the sort of effort that TV companies just aren’t willing to make any more.

Edge of Darkness is a six-part drama series centred around Ronald Craven, a Yorkshire detective who is investigating corruption about local miners when his daughter is brutally murdered in front of him. Trying to understand why this has happened, he discovers that she was part of a radical anti-nuclear movement who had broken into a plutonium factory. In an effort to punish those who ordered her murder he undertakes a similar break-in.

That’s the simple way of putting it, and it doesn’t even begin to cover the sheer wrenching emotions the series puts you through. The rain-drenched moment that Craven’s daughter is propelled like a bloody rag doll by a shotgun blast is one of the most genuinely shocking moments British TV has ever served up. And then we get almost an entire episode of Craven’s stoic remorse, as we join him in trying not to crack up.

One of the show’s greatest strengths is that it’s not an adaptation. Troy Kennedy Martin’s script was commissioned and written especially for television and, almost uniquely, it shows. It has the nerve to slow the pace right down, such as during Craven’s tour of grief around his empty house which goes on for a long, long time but never drags. It also has the nerve to rely on purely visual moments, such as Craven kissing his daughter’s vibrator – a stunningly unexpected and moving moment. And, when it wants to, it can move like a bastard, such as the daring cross-cutting between Craven and his CIA pal Darius Jedburgh’s fraught-ridden journey into the mine that houses the plutonium factory, cut with a sedate but very tense Commons Inquiry.

It is also incredibly multi-layered, something that rewards repeated viewings. The characters are all analogues for various legends; Craven is a modern representation of the English myth of the Green Man, who protects the land from ‘unnatural’ enemies. Jedburgh is an old Grail Knight, keeping the secret of eternal life from those who would misuse it. The bad guys also have their equivalents in history. This is a story that takes the personal and daringly expands it to include not just the entire planet but our perceptions of it throughout history.

The presentation of the script is equally well-thought out. The casting of the hawk-like and virtually unknown Bob Peck in the lead role was inspired, as he gives equal measures believability and sympathy as the hard-nosed yet crushed policeman. The rest of the cast also balance this element of the risky with the utterly convincing: Joe Don Baker as brash as they come as the Come Dancing-loving Jedburgh; Joanne Whalley all big brown eyes and earnest belief as Craven’s daughter; Hugh Fraser all wild-eyed restraint as the ultimate bad guy. If the series has a fault it’s Eric Clapton’s horribly dated score, a mess of over-processed if raw guitar and 80’s synths.

Otherwise, Edge of Darkness is still hugely relevant today. It was directly inspired by Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars speech, in which the old loony tried to do away with the Cold War impasse by using the US’s greater nuclear advantage to effectively ‘shoot down’ the opposition’s missiles. This scheme, which would have cost an absolute fortune and was not at all guaranteed to succeed, was a blatant attempt to dominate the world using superior power. Naturally, it has been revived by another loony US president, George W. Bush. What Edge of Darkness posited, and what will be forever relevant, is that if you have enough power you can do anything, and having that power distances you from those you rule. In the series the power is represented by the ruthless British and American owners of the plutonium, who are happy to break long-standing laws regarding the making of such infinitely dangerous weapons simply because they can, and even the Government proves ultimately toothless against such power. It still rules the planet today; the US would not have gone to war against Iraq if they had nuclear weapons, just as they don’t go to war against nuclear-powered Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, despite both these nations’ involvement in terrorist acts. It’s why North Korea and other ‘axis of evil’ nations, since the Iraq War, are now far more likely to want nuclear weapons.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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