Set in an extraordinary period of immense change, the Louis Lester Band arrives at the forefront of an emerging musical movement: jazz. As the band grows in popularity and starts to mix with the upper classes, the intoxicating combination of music, money and parties pull the characters into a glamorous but perilous world. Soon the band begins to feel immune from the prejudice hovering beneath the surface of society, but the sudden death of one of the band members creates a catastrophic turn in their fortunes. They immediately find themselves confronted by betrayal, and their privileged position is quickly torn away from them as they begin to discover who their friends really are. A stellar cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Goodman, Matthew Goode and Jacqueline Bisset star in this explosive drama, where for a moment music transcends the divisions of class and race, until fear and hate once again tear them apart.
I've been down this path before. I get to sit down and watch an engrossing new television miniseries and I can't hardly write a word about it without spoiling the proceedings for people. 'Dancing on the Edge' is a BBC production that is absolutely beautiful to look at and filled with fully developed characters and a compelling plot thread. It's brilliantly wrapped around a mystery - an event that the audience only comes to learn about in little prologue moments. With a cast featuring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew Goode, John Goodman and Jacqueline Bisset - this little bit of English period costume drama is worth the entire seven hour run time.
Stanley (Matthew Goode) is the editor and lead reporter for an up and coming underground music magazine. He loves discovering new talent and turning them into the next big story. With his love for true, authentic "black jazz," Stanley is on a mission to discover the next big band that will light up London - and perhaps cause a little bit of positive controversy. After hearing only the final few seconds of Louis Lester (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the Louis Lester Band - he's ready to turn them into household names. The only problem Louis has is his band are foreigners who must check in with the immigration department each and every week and prove they have work.
Even when the band finds longterm employment at the luxurious Imperial Hotel in the heart of London, they're still faced with deeper scrutiny because of the color of their skin and their current status as "undesirables." With their newly recruited lead singer Jessie (Angel Coulby) and her best friend Carla (Wunmi Mosaku) singing backup, the Louis Lester Band becomes an instant hit. The dying dinner crowd at the Imperial Hotel suddenly has new youthful clientele and the band plays to a packed house of people who seemingly have little interest in skin color. It isn't long before the band grabs the attention of rich American industrialist Mr. Masterson (John Goodman) his erratic protege Julian (Tom Hughes), Julian's sister Pamela (Joanna Vanderham) and her close photographer friend Sarah (Janet Montgomery). Music and art enthusiast Lady Cremone (Jacqueline Bisset) and even the younger members of the Royal Family become fans of the band doing what they can in their way to break through social prejudices and further the popularity of the band - even securing them live air time on the BBC.
Unfortunately, as the band's popularity grows, their time in the limelight is destined to fade when tragedy strikes a member of the group. As Stanley and Louis struggle to keep the band focused and playing in front of important people, the biased legal system of 1930s England aims to put a stop to the party. Louis quickly sees that the recent bright light on the band has cast a dark shadow making the band's future uncertain. As he tries to steer his band clear of any trouble, Louis' faith and trust in the people closest to him is put to the test.
Forgive me for being intentionally vague about story particulars in that summation, but I strongly feel that any more would be a horrible injustice to anyone interested in viewing 'Dancing on the Edge.' While this film takes place in and around the jazz scene of 1930s London; the music is not the main focus here. If poppy tunes of the time were what you were going into this one for, you'll probably leave disappointed. Jazz numbers have their place, but character drama set against the undercurrent of cultural racism is the driving focus here.
Like I said at the preface, the mystery is what moves this show forward. The first episode opens with Louis dressed in a tux and top hat with a bloody hand talking to Stanley in the rough and tumble magazine offices seeking aide from the police. Why is he there? What happened to Louis' hand? Why does he need to get out of the country immediately? Is the hero of the show really a bad guy? These are the questions you're hit with inside the opening five minutes, and then the show immediately flashes back 18 months into the past to where Louis and Stanley first meet. From there the episode follows the band's early first successes and the drama that comes from that new exposure - making you forget about the mystery element entirely until you're smacked in the face with a new clue. And that is how each episode plays out until episode six where everything comes together. This nonlinear structure works amazingly well to help you stay focused and interested in what is happening on screen from episode to episode.
Like I said, this is so difficult to write about without giving away any spoilers. You're just going to have to take my word for it that the show is worth the time. If I have one gripe it is with the final episode - the end just comes very abruptly. Not necessarily in a bad way, since by that point the audience is already well in the know of what's going on, it's just very sudden. There is a sort of "7th Episode" included in this Blu-ray set that centers around the difficult time Stanley has getting a true and honest interview out of Louis - but this is little more than reassembled cut scenes that didn't fit in with the pace of the main show. You can watch it if you'd like, but it doesn't really add anything to what you just saw.
Watching this show with my wife, 'Dancing on the Edge' quickly became a great way to unwind on a weekday evening. The beautiful photography, fun jazz numbers, the intricate costuming and the fantastic performances kept us hooked and looking forward to watching more. With that I have to tip my hat to Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew Goode, Janet Montgomery and Joanna Vanderham for working to create characters who feel like real people you want to keep watching. A special shout out must go to John Goodman as Mr. Masterson. He's always good and brings his best work to every part, but here he's particularly creepy and mysterious as the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. From beginning to end I thoroughly enjoyed each and every episode. If you're looking for something to hold you over before the next season of 'Downton Abbey' or 'Mr. Selfridge' to start - you'll get what you need right here with 'Dancing on the Edge.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Produced by the BBC and released by PBS, Dancing on the Edge arrives on blu-ray pressed on three BD50 discs. All extra features can be found on Disc 3.
With this 1.78:1 1080i image, 'Dancing on the Edge' is an absolutely beautiful looking show. Detail is strong throughout the entire run. All you have to do is look at the intricate costuming and set work to appreciate the production design that went into recreating the look and feel of the 1930s. Primary colors have a wonderful flair to them and get plenty of pop - particularly reds and golds. Daylight scenes look the best as the sunlight adds a lot of depth to the image. Black levels and shadows are fine for the most part, but some of the more darkly lit scenes can turn those wearing black outfits into floating heads and lead to some slight crush - but not so bad as to knock the score very hard. Overall this is a very bright and beautiful looking show and the Blu-ray image quality helps you appreciate everything on screen with fantastic clarity.
'Dancing on the Edge' makes some beautiful music with its DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. I'm uncertain if a full 5.1 track would have gotten any more life out of the content, but this audio presentation is quite wonderful. Levels are spot on allowing for sharp tuned listeners to appreciate the dynamic ranges of the dialogue, full sound effects, and the poppy jazz tunes. Imaging is also very strong for a stereo track allowing for just the right amount of channel movement for sounds to travel through the scenes without overlapping what's being said by the cast. As with the high production values, the audio is free of any distortion or other anomalies. A great track that perfectly complements the show.
Behind The Scenes: (HD 20:27) This is a pretty solid little bit of material that offers some insight into the production and the historical context in which the show takes place.
'Dancing on the Edge' was one of those miniseries that I'd heard about when it went into production and the cast had my interests peaked, but I never got to see it because I didn't have Starz. Thankfully, this Blu-ray brings the show home is grand fashion. The story is engrossing, the characters are intriguing, and the production design is top notch making it easy to see how it was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Miniseries. In my opinion it should have won over 'Behind the Candelabra.' This is one I'll be watching again to enjoy the great music, the fine performances, and to see if there are any details in the central mystery I might have missed! If you're a fan of this type of BBC period drama, I can't see why you wouldn't enjoy this show. With the absolutely beautiful picture quality, the strong audio presentation, I've got to call this one Highly Recommended.