Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Let's Dance: First Impressions

After watching A Royal Affair in Saturday night, I apparently still hadn't had my fill of period drama, since I then turned over to watch the first episode of Stephen Poliakoff's Dancing on the Edge. I hadn't heard particularly positive reviews from other people about it: the general consensus seemed to be that it was a bit dull, but despite it taking it's time, I have to say I personally really enjoyed it.

I'll be honest - it's mostly quite a happy, pleasant sort of story, which I guess could be considered a little dishonest, given its subject matter. Still, maybe it was the fact that I'd just watched something extremely dark and depressing, but I felt like it was nice to see something a bit cheerful on the telly for once. These days, even most of the comedy I watch is basically about how awful everything is.

The series follows the story of a band of jazz musicians in the 30s, and the journalist who helps bring about their rise to fame. Whilst I wouldn't exactly agree with the BBC's own description of the drama as "explosive", there was enough peril for this not to be uninteresting, and to be completely fair, I have only seen one episode so far. Essentially, Dancing on the Edge seems optimistic in tone, promising a bright future for these rising stars and ultimately an end to the acceptability of racial discrimination, the first episode closing with the young English princes dancing with the band's black singers.

There is turmoil: as well as comments about the general racism faced by members of the band in everyday life, the band's manager, Wesley, is under constant threat of deportation back to the US, despite his supposedly being a British citizen, because his birth certificate has gone missing. Worse, if he is returned to the States, he faces trial and possible execution, having got himself into trouble by sleeping with a white woman, leading to accusations of rape. There's also the cloud of suspicion that looms over Sarah and her family, who as émigrés from Russia, are regarded as potential Soviet spies.

Dancing on the Edge doesn't just concern itself with race, however. It's also interested in class and, to a lesser extent, gender politics. The first episode features appearances from members of the royal family and demonstrates how they can do as they please, and everything must always be tailored to suit them: this is an era before royalty were subject to the same kind of press criticism as any other "celebrity" might face. Journalist Stanley is apparently taken in by the airs and graces of the upper class. A working man who's made his own way in the world, Stanley clearly has ambitions to make a place for himself and his protégé, Louis, in the magical world of status and riches of which he is currently "dancing on the edge". Then there's Sarah, who's mistaken for an aristocrat by members of the band, but turns out to be merely Pamela's assistant, choosing her clothes and getting her shopping done for her. Though it's not so clear to the less well-off in this world, Sarah herself seems to insist that its obvious that she doesn't fit in with her wealthy and powerful friends - at least to those in the know. In this way, the series explores the complexities of the British class system, as well as heralding its end through infiltration by American capitalism, coming in the form of businessmen like Mr Masterson. Though things remain hazy and unclear, we're left suspecting a very dark side to the powerful Masterson, when Julian asks Louis for help in tidying up Masterson's hotel room, a task which includes getting rid of a drunk and very battered and bruised looking young girl, about 10 times smaller than Masterson himself. And then there's the fact that Stanley begins ignoring Rosie, who also works on the magazine, as soon as he wins the attention of the rather more seductive and glamorous Pamela.

There's definitely a lot going on in this apparently sleepy world, and it is wonderfully well-acted, which is more than can be said for a great many pretty period dramas. Matthew Goode's talent in particular is phenomenal - I knew I recognised him immediately, but my brain just could not place him. And it's no wonder: this is Watchmen's Ozymandias. Wow! Currently Chiwetel Ejiofor is proving a great front man for the series. It'll be great to see if the show makes some more demands of him as it progresses. It was also quite exciting to spot Sam Troughton as the Prince of Wales, since up until now, I've only ever seen him perform on stage. Finally, John Goodman makes an appearance as the shady Masterson, though as of yet his presence has been limited, whilst at the other end of the "fame spectrum", there are a handful of rising stars to watch out for: Joanna Vanderham, Janet Montgomery, Tom Hughes and Ariyon Bakare all seem promising so far.

All in all then, a lot better than anticipated. More to follow.

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