‘Dancing on the Edge’ finale review

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In this ninety-minute finale to Stephen Poliakoff’s jazz themed mini-series two questions dominate: Can Louis Lester get away with his life and can Julian Luscombe get away with murder?

Fleeing from the Music Express offices, Louis is smuggled out of central London by Stanley and Eric, with Sarah following despite his misgivings. Out in the suburbs and unsure of who to trust he becomes nervous and ends up on the run, using the principle of hiding in plain sight as a manservant to the aristocratic Pamela.

Mr Masterson’s new offices are open for business with Stanley expected to chair his first editorial meeting. Clearly using Louis as a fall guy, Masterson puts up a ludicrously high reward for the information leading to the singer’s capture. This forces Stanley into a difficult position, as he has to lie directly to Masterson and risk his big opportunity for friendship.

Clearly on the verge of a breakdown, Julian confirms all our fears with his rough treatment of Carla as he comes to say his goodbyes at the hotel. Then, fleeing from Masterson’s protection, he appears to consider killing Donaldson and holes up at his house with a gun.

Meanwhile the police close in on Louis’ circle of friends. Using Sarah’s émigré status and her Father’s position as a bargaining chip, they force her into a gut wrenching betrayal.

As tensions increase, there is some blunt language on display. Stanley spells out how the police have constructed the fit up of a ‘clever nigger’ and in doing so provides a stark reality check.

A scratch at the façade of the band’s patrons sadly reveals an inherent racism that had been notably absent before. Sadly, it seems clear that the fashionably liberal values of this aristocratic bunch break under the slightest of strain with Lady Cremone admitting that they should have expected trouble from a coloured band. Even the smooth Donaldson (Anthony Head), whom we had long suspected as too good to be true, seems resigned to the fact that Louis must be guilty. Admittedly, he can mainly be accused of inaction and a lack of courage rather than anything viler.

True courage however rises from the unlikeliest of places such as the bookish Eric, who is prepared to hide Louis at his brother’s house, and the support of the seemingly insubstantial Pamela (Joanna Vanderham). She insists upon riding along with Louis’ train bound bid for freedom and becomes instrumental in securing his escape with both her wits and her money.

With the tale drawing to a close, the troubled Julian finally gives his confession in the most bizarre of locations. Over a meal at a fish and chip restaurant he reveals Masterson’s part in the cover up of his whereabouts before taking his own life. He does however leave a suicide note that presumably clears Louis’ name, but comes too late to keep him the band leader from fleeing.

In the end, it transpires there is some sort of future for the Imperial Hotel which, at been at risk after Jessie’s murder as it limps on and employs Carla and the band to play twice a week. For Music Express magazine there is hope too, though they return to their more humble circumstances under the ownership of Mr Wax. More thrilling is the prospect of Sarah with her new camera and a resolve to use it to pour light into dark corners.

As well as some memorable performances from the cast, Adrian Johnston’s stirring, toe-tapping score has been a real highlight, especially with the discovery of Angel Coulby and Wunmi Moskau’s soulful vocals. Thankfully, a Louis Lester Band Album is available to accompany the series.

While for some Dancing on the Edge has been too slow, we have really enjoyed this drama stretching over a longer, unhurried format. Through the six hours, we have has the luxury of seeing the band’s rise and fall of the charted, with the rate of plot consumption not endangering our developing relationship with the characters. There has also been the accusation that the director has dwelt within his regular tropes, but we feel that is unjustified, as he has created a whole world here that begs for more exploration.

In this finale, there was plenty left unspoken and some motivations open to question. Poliakoff does not serve up answers on a plate, but rather credits the viewer with the ability to make their own judgements about the characters and their actions.

Dancing on the Edge has been compelling, thought provoking drama that entices you to watch again. We hope there will be more.


Aired at 9pm on Monday 25 February 2013 on BBC Two.

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