Edge of Silence

We’ve just finished our 30th anniversary viewing of Edge of Darkness. I must now have seen the series at least 10 times, but in this case familiarity breeds respect. Like the best Shakespeare play or Verdi opera the series rewards repeated study, and every time we notice something new about the story, the production, or both.

I’ve noticed before how Edge of Darkness has such an unforced pace, with space for the actors just to act. This time I consciously observed the phenomenon. In the first episode, after Emma’s death, there’s a period of about 20 minutes where Craven is grieving and the other policemen trying to help him deal with it. There are perhaps half a dozen lines of dialogue. In the 5th episode, where Craven and Jedburgh break into Northmoor, there are no more than a couple of hundred lines of dialogue in total. In over 50 minutes. Yet in both cases your attention is held completely, and there’s never a sense that the pace should be even slightly quicker.

This was also the first time I had watched it on a big screen, but at its original 3×4 aspect ratio. Now 3×4, especially with 1980s slightly grainy video, doesn’t suit expansive vistas or dramatic special effects. It does suit portraits, much better than wider presentations. What I noticed on this viewing was how Martin Campbell and his team really exploit this, filling the screen from corner to corner with one or two faces. It was powerful in the days of 20" TVs, but really punches through on a 50" set.

Yet again our understanding of the politics and personalities deepened. When I first saw the series, I wasn’t sure that Harcourt and Pendleton were the good guys. This time, I started to appreciate some glimmers of humanity in Grogan, the chief villain. Maybe by the 20th viewing we’ll understand him as well.

It’s slightly odd that the BBC chose to repeat the series last year rather than on this anniversary. 30 years on Edge of Darkness is still unmatched as a conspiracy thriller,  and deserves some celebration.

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