Dancing on the Edge (2013)

What starts out as a stylish ensemble drama of race, riches, and jazz in 1930s London quickly turns into a sloppy, uninteresting murder mystery.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Drama, Television

Director: Stephen Poliakoff

Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew Goode, Joanna Vanderham, Angel Coulby, Janet Montgomery, Anthony Head, John Goodman. Tom Hughes, Jacqueline Bisset

Year: 2013

MPAA Rating: NR

Country: UK

A British jazz band is discovered in a small club by a music journalist, and is offered the lucky break of becoming the house band at a top notch London Hotel in this 1930s-set mystery-drama. What starts as a fantastic-looking period-piece with fresh, interesting central characters (a black jazz band being adopted by rich, white groupies), becomes muddled and pulled down by a mystery that points glaringly in one direction immediately, and does nothing over the second half except confirm the neon arrow to the perpetrator.

Louis Lester (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his band are struggling in small clubs playing their not-yet-popular jazz music… that is, until their danceable, youthful sound is discovered by journalist Stanley (Matthew Goode), who hammers out a magazine called Music Express in an attic room, pushing his favorite music to his limited readership. With a few connections and favors, Stanley gets his new favorite band a standing gig at the very white, very posh Imperial Hotel, who have no idea what to think of an all-black band playing this swinging sound. But things change VERY fast as the Louis Lester Band gets an audience with reclusive socialite Lady Cremone (Jacqueline Bisset), who happens to know the Prince of Wales, among others.

Now this is all good at this point. I was totally loving this series about this bubble of society, where race is only not an issue if the folks in question are entertaining you, where rich people collect “interesting” artist friends, and shower them with favors as long as they are amused. This part of the serious is glamourous, interesting, and fresh. But when Dancing on the Edge introduces a murder mystery (about one-third the way through), the plot becomes a muddled mess.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, as band leader Louis Lester, is exquisite and dapper in his tuxedo and prim moustache. Though he is easily the soul of the show, he is not given much to do in the second half except have a worried furrowed brow, and try to keep it together. John Goodman plays a mysterious very rich American, who is both secretive, and wants to seemingly buy out everyone and everything around him (his motives are never really made clear, but he is projected to be vaguely sinister, just for the sake of… something). Bisset’s character, along with her friendship with Matthew Goode’s Stanley is interesting, but, again, she flip-flops halfway through, and falls to the background. The rest of the large ensemble cast is fine, with various complex relationships… at least among the white folks. The only one of the black characters that is ever developed is Louis Lester; the rest are supporting and/or forgotten.

Dancing on the Edge started out very promising. Honestly, I was loving the first two hours. But I’ve never seen a series fall apart so fast and so messily (and it is only six episodes long!). In fact, the whole thing wraps up at the end of the fifth episode, only to be followed by one more hour of flashbacks that felt so weirdly tacked on, that I wonder if the writers were promised an inkling of a potential second series. All if this is really unfortunate, because for a couple hours there, I thought I had discovered something great.


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