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Series / Dancing on the Edge

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Dancing on the Edge is a five-part British drama series written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, following the trials and tribulations of a black jazz band in the 1930s. After achieving fame by entertaining London's upper-class society and being championed by members of British royalty, their fortunes change when one of their members is found murdered, throwing them into a police investigation rife with racism, class prejudice and nationalism.

Airing in early 2013, the series is most notable for its All-Star Cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Goodman, Matthew Goode, Jacqueline Bisset, Joanna Vanderham, Caroline Quentin, Jenna Coleman, Angel Coulby, Jane Asher, Janet Montgomery and Anthony Head. The first trailer can be seen here and the second one here.

As well as the five episodes, there was also a short "bonus episode" released, which involved Stanley interviewing members of the band.

It was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards in 2013: Best Miniseries, Best Actor in a miniseries (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Best Supporting Actress in a miniseries (Jacqueline Bisset), with Bisset winning.

It was also Mel Smith's final project before his death.

This series provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: The Louis Lester Band
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Or at least very unreliable and shifty. Sarah makes a point of saying that she's not an aristocrat, thus delineating her character as trustworthy.
    • This is subverted later on, when Sarah cracks under the pressure of the police's attempts to hunt down Louis, and Pamela displays her Hidden Depths by coming through for him and successfully getting him out of the country.
  • As You Know: Happens quite a bit, as characters provide unnecessary Info Dumps to each other in their dialogue. One particularly glaring example is when Wesley shares with Louis why he fled America, who was already well-aware of the reasons.
    • In this case, though, Wesley seems to be addressing a nearby young (and white) woman who would not have been familiar with his past.
  • Attempted Rape: Implied to be the reason behind Julian's fatal attack on Jessie.
  • Author Appeal: As always, photography plays a big part in a Stephen Poliakoff drama.
  • Bad Liar: Eric is a self-proclaimed one.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Whilst on the run, Louis hides out in a ballet studio. He plays for them so that their teacher can watch their movements, and when the police turn up, none of the dancers give away his whereabouts.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Carla, who is very tall, very robust, and very beautiful. See picture.
  • Billing Displacement: Angel Coulby was practically the face of publicity for the show. Yet though her part is memorable and pivotal, it's also quite small.
  • Birds of a Feather: Surprisingly, Louis and Pamela, who both put up a calm and stoic facade to hide their inner turmoil.
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Butt-Monkey: Eric
  • Call-Back: Louis tells Sarah that he once saw a young woman ask for new cutlery after he accidentally brushed past her table. Later, Sarah notices a woman demand a new teacup after Jessie's hand brushes it in passing.
  • Catchphrase: Julian's "my dear friend".
  • Clear My Name: Averted. When it becomes clear that Louis is being set up for Jessie's murder, nobody even bothers to suggest this — they know that their only chance is to help him escape the country.
  • Control Freak: Masterson
  • Cool Train: Masterson has a private train that takes his guests to mystery locations.
  • Costume Porn
  • Creepy Child: Two of 'em; Donaldson's niece and her friend.
  • Deal with the Devil: Almost everyone with Masterson.
  • Dream Sequence: Louis has a disconcerting dream right before he's forced to go on the run.
  • Driven to Suicide: Julian
  • Everybody Smokes
  • Eye Open: Just before the Flash Back at the start of episode two we get a close-up of Louis's eye.
  • Food Porn: When the band arrive at the Imperial, the first thing they see is a pile of beautiful cakes and pastries being thrown in the dumpster. Throughout the series, their success (or lack thereof) is usually demonstrated by the food they're eating.
  • Foreshadowing: As unlikable as he is, Wesley is right about one thing: Mr. Donaldson and most of the other white supporters of the band do drop the band pretty quickly when it suits them. Wesley also provides foreshadowing when he is deported because Mr. Donaldson failed to get his paperwork in order as he promised. Donaldson claims that he really did try but a later scene when Donaldson locks Louis in a room and holds him for the police instead of calling a lawyer throws that into question.
  • Girl Friday: Rosie, Stanley's secretary.
  • Grande Dame: Lavinia Cremone
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Julian buys Jessie a car.
  • Hidden Depths: Pamela, who ends up being one of the few white people to come through for Louis.
  • Hope Spot: Jessie awakens from her coma, only to die later anyway.
  • Hopeless Auditionees: A string of them after the band is told to get a singer.
  • Hourglass Plot: Between Sarah and Pamela. Sarah starts as a self-described open-minded and forward-thinking woman who verbally distances herself from Pamela's way of life. Yet by the end, Sarah cracks under the pressure of the investigation surrounding Louis and gives away his location to the police when her father's career is threatened. Pamela on the other hand, steps up and refuses to let Louis be arrested for a crime she knows he's not guilty of, even if it means sacrificing her own brother.
  • How We Got Here: Each episode opens several weeks or months before the main events of the plot, exploring how Louis ended up on the run in the final episode.
  • Idiot Ball: Wesley violates then rules by which the band is allowed to stay at the Imperial Hotel, and the manager is more then happy to be rid of him.
  • The Ingenue: Carla and Jessie. Deconstructed in Jessie's case as she lets the fame go to her head a little.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Averted between Julian and Carla. He tries it, but she's rather creeped out by his demeanor at that point.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Masterson states that his fondness for Julian is because he's one of the few people who isn't afraid of him.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Lavinia and Stanley, though it has crumbled by the conclusion.
  • Jazz
  • Jerkass: The bureaucrat in charge of the Alien Registration Office who looks for any and every reason to have permits revoked and people deported.
  • Kill the Cutie: Jessie
  • Left Hanging: Quite a few plot-threads are deliberately left dangling or ambiguously resolved. For example, we never get a clear idea of what happened to the bruised, drunk girl that Louis finds in Masterson's trashed hotel room.
    • We also never find out exactly what happened between Julian and Jessie. It's pretty obvious that it was an Attempted Rape gone wrong from the beginning, but the resolution ( Julian saying that he tried to show his love and Jessie rejected him) is extremely unsatisfying.
    • This is taken up to eleven in the bonus episode, in which Louis receives a number of phone calls from a mysterious socialite who tries to tell him something about the Stonemasons. The conversation ends when her husband walks in and takes the telephone from her. Louis gets one last phone-call from her in which only the audience can see that she's (apparently) naked, underground and terrified. Then she hangs up and the whole thing is left utterly unresolved, with only Stanley vowing to investigate further before the episode ends.
  • Like a Son to Me: Julian to Masterson
  • Ms. Fanservice: Rosie's lingerie scene.
  • Musical Spoiler: Many of the lyrics to Jessie's songs have particular resonance later on. For example, "The Dead of Night Express" is how Louis escapes the country.
  • Mysterious Waif: Jessie. Her background is only explored in the bonus episode which was released after her death in the main show and is described by Stanley as "a mysterious little creature."
  • Playing Against Type: John Goodman as a sinister businessman.
  • Playing Sick: Jessie does this in order to get out of a gig and meet with a movie producer that Julian has promised her.
  • The Power of Trust: Makes up a big part of the fourth and fifth episode, in which Louis has no idea who to trust amongst his new friends. It ends up being a short-list of Stanley, Eric and (surprisingly) Pamela.
  • Red Herring: The first two episodes paint Jessie as The Ingenue, receiving lots of male attention and being completely oblivious about it. Near the end of the first episode, the Prince of Wales becomes very interested in her and his brother implies that she "might be a very busy young lady" as a result. A later episode has a minor character note that any woman the Prince of Wales shows interest in is expected to sleep with him. All of these clues make it seem like Jessie is going to end up in some sort of trouble as a result of the Prince's feelings for her, instead sweet, immature Julian is the one who tries to rape and ultimately kills her.
  • Shout-Out: Possibly. Given the presence of at least four Merlin actors, it feels somewhat deliberate that Stanley mentions trying to write a screenplay about King Arthur, and that Angel Coulby (Guinevere) utters the phrase: "the son of the king?!" when seeing the Prince of Wales for the first time.
  • Spoiled Brat: The band plays at a birthday party for one of these.
  • Token Romance: Louis and Sarah's love scenes could be entirely removed without causing any damage to the overall Story Arc. Matter of fact, so could Sarah, who only really exists to be Louis's Love Interest.
  • Tragic Bromance: A non-fatal example, but Stanley and Louis are eventually forced to go their separate ways.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The very first trailer showed Louis finding Jessie in the linen room, covered in blood. Though it doesn't exactly give away the fact that she was murdered, it's not hard to guess from snippets of dialogue and other scenes shown in the trailer.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Poliakoff claims the story was partly inspired by the antics of Prince George (future Duke of Kent) and the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and their interest in jazz musicians and racial issues in the '30s.
  • Where da White Women At?: Deconstructed. Though Louis and Sarah's relationship would be controversial in the time period, it's not made much of an issue of in the story itself (in fact, few people outside their circle of friends seem to know it's going on). Furthermore, it's Sarah who makes most of the moves on Louis whereas he is incredibly quick to distrust her when he's framed for Jessie's murder.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: Though it's never voiced explicitly, it's clear that many of the white people Louis meets consider him this (Donaldson tells Stanley in private that he thinks Louis is remarkably articulate and gentlemanly). In comparison, none of them like the more antagonistic Wesley.