One of the most critically acclaimed TV dramas in British Television History (so much so that it was voted the 15th best TV program of all time in the UK), Edge of Darkness tells the story of Detective Ronnie Craven (BAFTA award winner Bob Peck) as he investigates the murder of his daughter, Emma (Joanne Whalley). During a stormy night, Emma took a bullet that was intended for Craven by a hit man, and as such the police treat it as a simple revenge case. Peck however is not convinced; looking further into the case, Peck realizes that Emma was the intended target and that she was apart of the anti-nuclear advocacy group G.A.I.A., which was investigating the illegal-goings on of a nuclear waste facility named Northmoor. Entering into Craven’s investigation are two government ministers (played by Charles Kay and Ian McNiece) who want Craven to investigate the goings on of Northmoor and believe that there is a connection between Northmoor and pollution of the local environment. Also entering into this fray is CIA agent Darius Jedburg (Joe Don Baker, in his best role), who also has a mysterious interest in Northmoor. Finally, Craven is being haunted by the ghost of Emma, who keeps giving him cryptic clues to who was responsible for her death.
While most scripted dramas would normally fail under multiple plot devices, Edge of Darkness succeeds mainly due to its tight storytelling, superb direction, and incredible performances. Written by Troy Kennedy Martin and directed by Martin Campbell, the series is always kept grounded and to the point with the viewer wanting to know what is going to happen to Craven as he uncovers this vast conspiracy. At its heart, Edge of Darkness works best as this type of drama: that of a good man against evil forces. Martin’s dialogue and Campbell’s direction also help raise up the tension as the answers start coming to Craven without making them unnecessarily complicated. Craven in this instance represents the audience, who is being exposed to a giant conspiracy as they are figuring out the connections to Emma’s death. The only time when the numerous plot devices fall short is when Emma (as a ghost) explains to Craven that the planet is fighting back against evil-doers and that the planet will find a way to win. While understanding that Martin and Campbell are trying to make a point about man’s relationship to the environment, this scene tended to distract the viewer and came off as very preachy. Although this scene did have resonance in the final shot of the series, it could have been done in a much subtler way. Especially compared to the rest of the series’ plot devices as a whole. Even though this writing can veer at times, it is the performances in Edge of Darkness that take the series to great heights.
Bob Peck is truly incredible as Ronnie Craven. He has to display so many emotions that even in the hands of the most gifted actors, the performance could easily have come off as over-the-top or ridiculous. Peck portrays Craven as a man going through all the stages of grief that is not just limited to wailing or crying: there are moments when he is catatonic, depressed, inquisitive, and vengeful. This makes his performance as a grieving father more believable and identifiable: every person knows someone like Craven or has gone through the emotions that Craven experiences. It is this power in his display of emotions that makes Peck’s portrayal incredibly deep and powerful. Joe Don Baker also does a good job as Jedburg. Although he appears to be more lighthearted and funny, Baker portrays Jedburg as mentally unstable: the viewer does not know what Jedburg’s motivations are for helping Craven, or where his loyalties ultimately lie.
Even though the series was inspired the growing nuclear tensions of the Cold War as well as the culture of secrecy in the Thatcher cabinet, Edge of Darkness is still relevant to any time period where the government is trying to hide secrets from its citizens or if the public wants a simple story of a good vs. evil. These are two genres that the viewing public will never get tired of.
Fun Fact #1: Martin Campbell later directed two of the best James Bond movies, GoldenEye and the 2006 version of Casino Royale. He also directed the forgettable remake (2010) of his show that starred Mel Gibson.
Fun Fact #2: American viewers may know Bob Peck from his role in this.