Friday 20 July 2018

Why you should be watching masterful 1985 TV series 'Edge of Darkness' now

Bob Peck as detective Ronald Craven in Edge of Darkness
Bob Peck as detective Ronald Craven in Edge of Darkness

Pat Stacey

Life was a lot different in 1985. Reagan was in the White House, Thatcher was in No 10 Downing Street and together they ruled the world - a world many people genuinely feared would eventually be consumed by a nuclear war.

The internet was in its infancy.  Few people owned mobile phones, which were expensive and unwieldy.  Those who could afford them looked ridiculous using them.

CDs were only beginning to appear - most people still bought music on vinyl or cassette, which cost less. The Walkman was the iPod of its day. In home entertainment, the VCR ruled.  It would be some years before DVDs supplanted video cassettes, ultimately rendering them obsolete.

Television was a lot different too.  'Dallas' and 'Dynasty' were watched by millions around the globe.  So was 'Miami Vice,' which sparked a men's fashion trend for pastel-toned jackets worn with the sleeves rolled up - a look that, when teamed with white socks and shiny black slip-on shoes, would get you barred from any decent nightclub in town.

'Eastenders' started that year and was fresh and daring.  So was the sitcom 'The Golden Girls,' which arrived on screens the previous year and, believe it or not, was considered risque for US television at the time.  A lot of television, though, was formulaic dross.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, though it had been in gestation for a considerable time, came BBC2's six-part thriller 'Edge of Darkness' which BBC4 began re-showing last night.

It's no exaggeration to say 'Edge of Darkness', written by Troy Kennedy Martin - who created 'Z Cars' and wrote many episodes of 'The Sweeney' (created by his brother, Ian) - and directed by future Bond helmer Michael Kamen, who would work together again on 'Lethal Weapon'.

It even boasted an authentic American film star, the great Joe Don Baker, in the second lead role. Baker had so liked the script that he agreed to work for a fraction of his usual fee.

'Edge of Darkness' also created a brand new star, a more or less unknown theatre actor called Bob Peck, who up to then had filled only minor roles on TV.

Peck, who died in 1999, plays Ronald Craven, a detective whose daughter (Joanne Whalley, who later married Val Kilmer) is shot dead.  It's initially believed Craven was the target, but he soon learns his daughter is somehow linked to a nuclear power plant.

Craven's investigation leads him to the dark heart of the nuclear industry. 'Edge of Darkness' is more than just a riveting conspiracy thriller; it's also a fiercely angry, political work that tapped perfectly into the zeitgeist of the time, when it appeared the world was forever tottering on the brink of destruction.

Kennedy Martin's complex, dazzlingly ambitious script managed to seamlessly incorporate mystical and mythical elements.

'Edge of Darkness' paved the way for other dramas about the nuclear issue, most notably the BBC's terrifying 'Threads,' and influenced every conspiracy thriller that's followed it.  None has been as potent or as powerful, while Martin Campbell's 2010 film version starring Mel Gibson is a pale copy of the original.

If you don't get to watch it on BBC4, it can be found on streaming sites and is available on DVD.  Otherwise you'll miss a masterpiece.

Edge of Darkness is on BBC4 on Mondays at 10pm.



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