Stephen Poliakoff says Dancing On The Edge is authored television!

by Anna Howell

Writer and Director of the new BBC jazz age drama Dancing On The Edge, Stephen Poliakoff discusses the importance of the 1930’s where this new thriller is set.

Dancing On The Edge is an explosive drama series for BBC Two set in the early 1930s following a black jazz band in London during times of extraordinary change.

Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Stephen Poliakoff (The Lost Prince, Shooting The Past), the five-part series follows the Louis Lester Band as they find fame amongst the parties and performances of upper class society in the capital. Initially shocked by black musicians performing in polite society, many recoil, but London’s progressive socialites take the band under their wing.

When the band’s manager Wesley becomes too demanding to the hotel in which the band performs he is deported, forcing the rest to move on without him. The musicians play for the Prince of Wales who elevates their status to the heights of early pop fame. But they become entangled in the shadowy world of socialites, which results in a suspected murder. The walls begin to close in on Louis and the other members until they realise that escape from England may be their only chance for safety.

And Stephen Poliakoff has shared with the Metro newspaper just what he thinks about the show:

“We tell a rattling good story,

“This is authored television. I create this handcrafted work every few years and I do my own thing and it’s not going to be the same as everyone else. The important thing to me is that I never underestimate the audience. Obviously I try to make my work multi-layered but it’s not difficult to follow. Why can’t you offer something where you need to concentrate? I think of it as creating a novel on television. Oh dear, that sounds a bit pompous. But it’s like an adapted novel.”

Dancing On The Edge is set in the 1930’s, an era which Poliakoff believes to be one of the most important in recent history:

“There are so many echoes of the 1930s in the present day,’ he says. ‘There are fascists all over Europe. There’s an economic crisis. There are hungry people in the richest countries in the world. Nobody thought that would ever happen again.”

“The current government – Cameron and his crowd – would be a very recognisable world to those in power in the 1930s. Much more so than Heath or Thatcher.”

Dancing On The Edge boats a fine selection of some of the industries finest cast including Chiwetel Ejiofor who plays bandleader Louis and Matthew Goode who plays the journalist, Stanley, as well as the likes of John Goodman, Jacqueline Bisset and Anthony Head, alongside rising stars Joanna Vanderham, Tom Hughes and Janet Montgomery.

Music plays an enormous part of the series, with actresses Angel Coulby and Wunmi Mosaku playing the main singing stars. A soundtrack of Adrian Johnston’s songs is set to be released at the same time as the series, of which Poliakoff commented: “These are original songs written for television. I was absolutely gulping the music in.”

With such passion and soul pouring into the characters and music you would be forgiven for believing Dancing On The Edge to be a biopic, but Poliakoff insists that it is all the result of his imagination, although he admits that the character Stanley Mitchell, the journalist, is based on well-known music journalist Spike Hughes:

“He was also a bandleader – he gave himself rave reviews,’ says Poliakoff. ‘He unlocked a window into great black music.”

Dancing On The Edge is due to be shown as a six-part series, but with a seventh episode scheduled also, of which Poliakoff explained: “You see the band being interviewed. You find out more about the characters. My character Clara is supportive – not the star but she has her hopes and dreams too.”

Janice Hadlow, Controller, BBC Two, said of the new series: “Stephen Poliakoff is a great distinctive talent and I’m thrilled to have his first long-form drama on BBC Two. In Dancing On The Edge I think you will see a very different voice from Stephen and I am delighted to be able to add this remarkable piece to the new dramas on the channel in 2012.”

Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, added: “Following the huge success of The Shadow Line where every episode consolidated with over two million viewers, the channel will continue its commitment to original British drama in 2012. I am thrilled to welcome Stephen Poliakoff back to BBC Two with the first series ever he has both written and directed for television.”

Watch the trailer for Dancing On The Edge in the clip below:


  1. Paul on January 28, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Angel Coulby isn’t just a good singer, she is also a great and talented actress, as (CBE) Stephen Poliakoff said himself in BBC Breakfast, this morning and in many other occasions. Why isn’t that mentioned in your article? Why are you putting her out of the actors list along with the finest ones and the rising stars? Why is it that her great acting talent is ignored here? She is a talented actress who can sing and not the other way.

  2. Paul on January 28, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    Good article though.

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