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Edge of Darkness (1985)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Edge of Darkness (1985)
BBC, 4/11-9/12/1985
6x55 min episodes, colour
DirectorMartin Campbell
Production CompaniesBBC
 Lionheart TV International
ProducerMichael Wearing
ScreenplayTroy Kennedy Martin
PhotographyAndrew Dunn

Cast: Bob Peck (Ronald Craven); Joe Don Baker (Darius Jedburgh); Joanne Whalley (Emma Craven); Jack Watson (James Godbolt); Charles Kay (Pendleton)

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Yorkshire CID detective Ronald Craven witnesses the murder of his anti-nuclear campaigner daughter. His police bosses believe the bullet was meant for him, but Craven's investigations introduce him to a shadowy world of environmental politics and nuclear intrigue.

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This six-part drama serial was transmitted on BBC2 in Winter 1985 and repeated on BBC1 in three parts, on consecutive evenings, just ten days after its BBC2 run ended. This remarkably swift repeat highlighted the impact and significance of this five-hour nuclear thriller, broadcast at a time when nuclear politics were firmly on the political and public agenda. Critically acclaimed, the drama was also very popular, with an average audience of four million on BBC2 and double that for the BBC1 repeat. Edge of Darkness received four BAFTA awards, including Best Drama Series/Serial.

Writer Troy Kennedy Martin began work on the serial in the late 1970s and a number of influences and events shaped its development. Kennedy Martin's previous work on crime series like Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78) and The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-78) clearly influenced the portrayal of the police, with Ronnie Craven (Bob Peck), the Yorkshire police detective at the centre of the drama, moving from an Establishment position at the beginning to take up an increasingly sceptical and oppositional stance as the serial proceeds.

The murder of his daughter in episode one, and his dissatisfaction with the restricted nature of the official police inquiry into her death, leads Craven to undertake his own investigation. This leads him into a labyrinthine network of government secrecy and duplicity, involving the illegal manufacture of weapons-grade plutonium at a nuclear waste disposal plant in Yorkshire, which becomes linked to US government plans to develop a Strategic Defence Initiative - Ronald Reagan's so-called 'Star Wars' defence umbrella - designed to safeguard America from nuclear attack.

A drama which begins, then, on a human scale, with Craven mourning his daughter's death, gradually opens out to embrace national and international issues as it moves from an investigative film noir to take on the conventions of a political thriller, before transforming into a nuclear thriller with implications of global apocalypse. For Kennedy Martin this was a deliberate strategy, facilitated by the serial form: "The art is to start with a familiar idea and take the audience with you on a plane, so that when they look down they are thousands of miles above the Earth." For a drama concerned above all with the future of the planet, this analogy is particularly apt, and the continuing relevance in the 21st century of the issues Edge of Darkness addresses confirms it as one of the great works of television drama.

Lez Cooke

*This programme is the subject of a BFI TV Classics book by John Caughie.

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Video Clips
1. Poisoned (2:30)
2. The power of Gaia (2:32)
3. Jedburgh's triumph (3:51)
Complete episode: 'Fusion' (55:35)
Defence of the Realm (1985)
Natural Lies (1992)
State of Play (2003)
Martin, Troy Kennedy (1932-2009)
Peck, Bob (1945-1999)
Wanamaker, Zoƫ (1949-)
Wearing, Michael (1939- )
Whalley, Joanne (1964-)
Conspiracy Drama