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DVD Review: Edge of Darkness (1985)

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On a rainy Yorkshire night, police Inspector Ronald Craven, a widowed father, played by Bob Peck, picks up his young daughter at a political meeting. They drive home and on their way to the front door, they are confronted by a shouting, mysterious figure who lets go a shotgun blast that kills the young woman. Thus begins the 1985 BBC six-part mini-series, Edge of Darkness, now available on DVD.

At first the assumption is that the killer was looking for revenge against Craven. But very quickly, it becomes apparent that this may not be the case at all. First as Craven goes through his daughter's things, he makes some strange discoveries—a map, a radiation detector, and most mysteriously, a revolver. Then he learns that the girl may have been a member of a subversive anti-nuclear group along with her socialist boyfriend; moreover she may well have been involved in some kind of terrorism. In London, he discovers that she has been under investigation by at least one government secret agency. It is entirely possible that the killer was really after her.

Haunted by hallucinatory visions of his daughter both as an adult and as a child, Craven embarks on a search for the killer, and more importantly for the truth about her activities. Slowly he becomes entangled in political machinations involving British secret agents, the CIA, and upper level government ministers. He enters a Machiavellian world of pragmatic politics, where ends justify means, one-time friends turn into enemies, and where it is never easy to tell the guys in the white hats from those in the black.

Indeed that is the key to the success of Edge of Darkness. It is an adult thriller. Unlike the blockbuster action flicks which deal with a simple world where there is good and there is evil and they are fairly easily recognized that have come to define the form, its world is much more complex. Good and evil are not always recognizable. Good and evil may not even be relevant considerations in this world. Morality may well be subject to pragmatics.

In keeping with this complexity, there is more emphasis on character than on car chases. The story moves slowly, at a snail's pace compared to the typical film in the genre. Director Martin Campbell lets his camera linger over silent close-ups of his actors caught in moments of introspection. He especially follows the distraught Craven as he sometimes wanders aimlessly, pursued by his visions of the past, his emotions bottled up in a vain attempt at the stiff upper lip so admired by the Brits. Peck's brilliantly understated performance leaves the viewer no doubt of the turmoil within and gives the inevitable eruption of passion that much more emotional truth. This is no stereotypical superman of the Liam Neeson in Taken variety. This is a man driven, but a man who might well fail.

Most of the performances emphasize subtlety of character and shy away from scenery chewing. Perhaps Joe Don Baker's Darius Jedburgh, a wise-mouthed American agent with country boy façade, comes close to the top, but even he doesn't really go over. Ian McNeice and Charles Kay as British secret agents are suitably subdued and ironically unflappable. At times they seem more concerned with food than with their political problems. Joanne Whalley plays Emma Craven, the daughter, with wide-eyed sweetness and innocent optimism. Zoe Wanamaker has a brief moment or two as a secret agent and a love interest. Hugh Fraser as the head of a British nuclear facility turns in an effective performance as the face of institutional villainy.

The series' BAFTA award-winning score was composed by Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen. The DVD provides a music only option to isolate the score as one of the special features. Also included is an alternate ending (which seems only slightly altered). I must admit neither my wife nor I could tell the difference on first viewing. There are interviews with cast and crew in a section called "Magnox—The Secrets of Edge of Darkness," as well as an interview with Bob Peck from a BBC morning show.

This two-disc DVD set of the original series offers audiences who may have been somewhat disappointed with Campbell's recent big screen remake with Mel Gibson something they may well find more palatable.

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