Edge of Darkness. TV drama doesnt get better than this
Bob Peck stars as policeman Ron Craven who witnesses his student activist daughter Emma gunned down. His investigations lead him into a murky twilight world of conspiracies reaching into the heart of the nuclear establishment.
His performance is out of this world. We learn he lost his wife to cancer. Having just lost his daughter this is a man who gradually begins closing down. Theres an amazing scene early on when, going through his daughter's bedroom, he opens the contents of a box file. His acting an utter masterstroke as he discovers a geiger counter, a pistol and an ordnance survey map. Everything is conveyed through minor registers of facial expression. Television filming doesnt get better than this, avoiding effects laden drama the characters and their actions are allowed to speak for themselves. Theres no moody music or lighting telling us what to feel. This scene is comparable to that in GET CARTER when Michael Caine, having seen the pornographic film with Doreen, breaks down with a tear running down his cheek.
Theres a noir sensibility to EDGE OF DARKNESS both in terms of it's theme and iconography. A lone protagonist with restricted knowledge caught up in circumstances over which he has no control.
The heavy rain and night time setting which open the series is pure noir as are the trenchcoats worn by the characters. The cop shows of the seventies are also an influence in the form of the busy incident room, the guvnor's office, hard drinking and cigarettes. Inevitable given the writer, Troy Kennedy Martin, worked on the police show Z Cars.
By the time its progressed to the third and fourth episode, it becomes a hard edged political thriller. By the concluding episode it's morphed to environmental mysticism. However, it manages to avoid stretching credibility. Indeed its all too credible. The underground nuclear facility, Northmoor, must have been modelled on the complex of tunnels and caverns beneath Box Hill in Wiltshire, a former quarry used for storing munitions in WWII which later houed a nuclear bunker.
The production values put this way ahead of other series from the mid eighties such as WIDOWS which I also recently watched. Lynda La Plantes first show is poorly scripted, badly acted and under budgeted. DARKNESS uses nice camera work, fully exploiting location filming rendering London s North circular appropriately grey. Theres also a moody soundtrack by Eric Clapton.
Enduring and totally watchable twenty years on this captures perfectly the mood of the time it was made. For example, former environment minister Michael Meacher plays himself as a young Labour politician addressing a bunch of student radicals. In the background are posters for the Miners Strike and Socialist Workers. The genius of EDGE OF DARKNESS rests in its ability to still reach us twenty years on. It achieves this through maintaining a universality being both of its time yet reaching beyond. Having now seen all six episodes it is timeless. It could easily have relied on bashing Thatcher, which would have dated it. Instead it calls into question the very nature of the state, power and institutions.
The DVD is available in Warwick Uni Library. Give yourself a week end to watch it. I promise you TV drama never got better than this.