Over the last couple of evenings, I’ve revisited the BBC’s excellent 1985 miniseries, Edge of Darkness. This six-parter was the work of writer Troy Kennedy Martin (Z-Cars, The Italian Job, Kelly’s Heroes) and director Martin Campbell (who would go on to introduce two new James Bonds to us – Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale).
If you haven’t seen it before, or have only seen the lesser film version with Mel Gibson (again, directed by Martin Campbell), then I would recommend this series. One caveat – it’s not easy viewing…
In the first three parts, the action centres on Ronnie Craven, a policeman whose 21 year-old daughter, Emma, is gunned down in front of him on the steps to their house. Craven is no stranger to pain; a few years before, he watched his wife fade away from cancer. Now, the one remaining light in his life is snuffed out, but Craven soon discovers that Emma was neck-deep in some very sinister stuff.
The series certainly looks and feels “of its time”, anchored as it is in the deep political divisions of the Thatcher era and presented in the old 4:3 format. However, this makes no odds in a powerful and at times surreal Cold War drama.
Edge of Darkness carries a pervading menace and doom. After I’d seen it back to back, I really felt like I needed a breather. Like all good drama, there’s no one thing that creates the atmosphere. In part, it’s the score by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton (as I write this, I am into my second full day of that bloody guitar line going round and round and round in my head!) There’s also a highly intense performance by Bob Peck as the grieving father. Then there’s the underhandedness of powerful antagonists, portrayed by a superb supporting cast. And finally, the mystery of just what the hell went on at Northmoor.
Oh and then there’s Darius Jedburgh.
We first find Jedburgh in London. It’s closing time at a restaurant, and there he is with two American military pals. All are mullered, having spent the evening celebrating their return from doing God-knows-what, God-knows-where. Jedburgh is just sober enough to badger Craven out of his hotel room for a drink and from there, an already intriguing plot gets really engrossing.
Jedburgh’s a Langley man alright, but quite the oddball. He’s uncompromising and dangerous, but enjoys Come Dancing with childish glee and wears a poncho to breakfast.
A favourite scene is when, returning from El Salvador, Jedburgh empties out his golf bag. Out tumble golf clubs, tees, clothing, shoes, several empty bottles and an AR-15. Jedburgh draws Craven deeper into the looming mystery of what happened to Craven’s daughter and her organisation, Gaia.
“Millions of years ago when the Earth was cold, it looked like life on the planet would cease to exist. But black flowers began to grow, multiplying across the landscape until the entire surface was covered in blooms…” Emma explains it all to her dad.
Edge of Darkness is a real one-off. It’s environmental activism (as it was in the 80s), blended with spy mystery, highly focused personal drama and revenge thriller.
It all leads miles underground, to a secret facility called Northmoor. In the film version, Northmoor was just an American corporation with dirty secrets. In the TV series, it’s much more sinister – a massive underground complex, known only to a few powerful people and hiding an ugly secret. There’s something about the way the characters get drawn into this grim, irradiated chasm that harks back to Dr Who of the 1970s or Quatermass before it.
Craven and Jedburgh retrace Emma’s steps and find their way to the heart of what’s going on. It’s a tough scramble down into the bowels of the earth and you find yourself sharing Craven’s astonishment at the secrets his recently deceased daughter must have been keeping. “This is the most dangerous business in England run by the most dangerous men”, Craven remonstrates with Emma’s ghost.
Yes, Emma’s ghost. That’s another element of this series; the enigmatic and supernatural side. Is she really appearing to him? Is he just imagining it due to grief? Is it prophetic?
From then on, there is a tragic inevitability to the action, but it’s never predictable. All sides want a piece of what lurks deep in the caves under northern England but the truth can never be allowed out.
When it was first shown, Edge of Darkness aired on BBC2. Within days, it was rerun on BBC1 and quickly became a massive hit. To this day, it’s regarded as one of the most outstanding and influential pieces of TV ever broadcast and has influenced countless other productions.
The atmosphere of this series is so strong that I think it may be some time before I revisit it. It’s well-crafted, well-acted TV drama, but by heck it’s potent.