October 20, 2013



DANCING ON THE EDGE:  Saturday 9PM on Starz

Starz’s latest British import, DANCING ON THE EDGE, seems on the basis of its first double-length episode to be intended for viewers who enjoy the jazzy millieu of Boardwalk Empire but find its pace too rapid and its violence too rude.  It’s a well-produced, intelligent drama that’s languid to the point of sleepiness.

Stephen Poliakoff’s name doesn’t mean much in the US, but in England he’s a fairly celebrated stage and TV writer and sometimes director, and he’s also dabbled in feature films (most recently Glorious 39, which had a limited release here).  He wrote and directed all of Dancing On the Edge, and he clearly has affection for the style and music of its era.  Set in the early 1930s, Dancing is the story of a black jazz band led by Louis Lester (Chiwetel Ejiofor–either as a result of planning or fortuitous luck, the US start of Dancing coincides with the opening of 12 Years A Slave, also starring Ejiofor), which with the help of hustling journalist Stanley Mitchell (Matthew Goode) begins to catch on with British high society, breaking barriers along the way.

It’s not just that nothing much happens during the 100-minute opening of Dancing On the Edge, but there aren’t even many seeds planted for things to happen later, apart from a flash-forward prologue set 18 months in the future establishing that Louis will eventually be on the run from the police for as-yet unexplained reasons.  The most dramatic event of the opener is the deportation of the band’s original manager Wesley Holt (Ariyon Bakare) back to the US, a plot point foreshadowed by the dozen or so times his precarious immigration status and missing birth certificate are prominently mentioned before it happens.  Apart from that, we’re introduced to a variety of very good-looking young members of the smart set, including Pamela (Joanna Vanderham), her brother Julian (Tom Hughes), and Sarah (Janet Montgomery) as well as the somewhat shady and eccentric American millionaire Walter Masterson (John Goodman).  The only member of the band to get much attention in addition to Louis himself is beautiful lead singer Jessie (Angel Coulby).

So far there’s no particular point of view expressed, other than that racism was still a very real factor in 1930s Great Britain and that jazz is terrific music.  Ejiofor dominates his scene with effortless authority, while Goode works very hard at his fast-talking, cynical reporter thing, and everyone else is attractive, as is the rich production design, which could have been borrowed, sets, costumes and all, from any of a hundred other British costume dramas about the era.  (The original songs, though, supposedly written by Louis, stick out as unconvincing simulations of the real thing.)  Presumably, the four episodes that remain will try to generate more excitement, but Dancing starts off with a very slow beat.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."