Review: Dancing on the Edge

Chiwetel Ejiofor in Dancing on the Edge

Dancing on the Edge is a British mini-series from 2013. Set in 1930s London, the series is about a black jazz band that becomes entangled in the aristocratic world of London. 

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays suave and sophisticated Louis Lester. He reminded me of Duke Ellington – handsome, unflappable, dressed to the nines. When his band hired two female singers, they became popular and found a regular gig in a posh London hotel.

Angel Coulby and Wunmi Mosaku in Dancing on the Edge
Carla (Wunmi Mosaku) and Jessie (Angel Coulby) sing with the band

There are 6 episodes in the series. I enjoyed the first 2 very much. As the series went on, the episodes grew stranger and stranger. The final episode was a bit bizarre. It was as if the first 5 episodes were merely gaslighting the viewers into one way of thinking, and the last turned everything on its head.

I watched it all, obviously. But I had to watch the final episode 2 times because I slept through most of it the first time. Everything was all over by the end of episode 5. The murderer revealed. The handsome black suspect escaped safely to France. Episode 6 was an interview with Louis Lester, which took place before most of the exciting action and which painted everything in a different light. Was it a crime of passion or a vast conspiracy?

I started the series really liking it, but I liked it less as it went on. I didn’t dislike it – I did keep watching. But it lost the edge, the hook, that it started with. I felt it fizzled away at the end. I suspect the filmmaker thought he was doing something exciting and experimental, but it didn’t quite work for me.

There were many characters in this drama. The band members, except for the two women singers, were just there – instruments without lines.

Matthew Goode played Stanley, a magazine editor who promoted the Louis Lester Band and helped them in numerous ways.

As the series went on, characters you thought you had figured out would mysteriously change. There were odd betrayals and character reversals. Everyone seemed to be an untrustworthy narrator. English restraint was everywhere – especially in the pace of the dialog and action (what there was of it).

Joanna Vanderham, Janet Montgomery, Jenna Coleman, Anthony Head, Allan Corduner, John Goodman, Tom Hughes, and Jacqueline Bisset played prominent characters.

The series won several awards, including a Golden Globe for Jacqueline Bisset, a BAFTA for sound mixing, and a couple of best actor awards for Chiwetel Ejiofor. I thought the costumes and the cinematography were outstanding.

Dancing on the Edge was written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff.

The series is available on Netflix and iTunes. The series played in the US on Starz.

Have you seen Dancing on the Edge? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.

2 thoughts on “Review: Dancing on the Edge”

  1. I haven’t seen it yet, Virginia—summer is a crazy busy time for me! I’ll put it on the burner for fall. As I’ve said many times, I’m so happy to see films and series from earlier eras. I can relate to them so much better!

  2. Mr. Chris Rasdale

    This is probably somewhat late but I have to agree with the widespread negative assessment of Episode 7 of ‘Dancing On The Edge.’. on the U.S. blu ray – which to me plays more like a Special Feature than a true episode of the Series.

    I watched about ten minutes of it before I got bored of the interview and hit the fast-forward button on my blu ray player’s remote control. In fact even when the action of the episode moves away from the interview, it still didn’t hold my interest.

    I’ve read that Episode 7 casts some of the events of the Series in a different light, but what’s the point of doing that when the previous episode brought the Series to a definitive end? Perhaps the extra narrative strands introduced in Episode 7 should have been woven into a longer version of the Series?…

    So even if the last five or ten minutes of Episode 6 do perhaps bring the story to its conclusion a little abruptly, that’s a darn sight better than sitting through a further sixty minute episode which seems to serve very little purpose.

    A great Series and a great blu ray release. I just watch the first six episodes and pretend that the seventh doesn’t exist!

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