‘Which brings me to your daughter.’ – Pendleton
‘What about her?’ – Craven
‘She was some sort of terrorist, wasn’t she?’ – Pendleton
Bob Peck, Joanne Whalley, Joe Don Baker, Charles Kay, Ian McNeice
Identikit: Detective Ronald Craven investigates the brutal murder of his activist daughter, Emma, and soon finds himself enmeshed in a government/corporate cover-up.
ALONG WITH State of Play and A Very British Coup (1988 version), Edge of Darkness is the finest political thriller made by British television. It is a superbly noirish six-parter that conveyed suspicions about just how sinister the government and corporate powers might be, and perfectly captured the troubled spirit of 1980s. It is a politically charged series, influenced by the 1980s secrecy surrounding the nuclear industry and the divisive mood of the Thatcher era. Detective Ronnie Craven is returning home one rain-soaked night with his daughter Emma, having given her a lift from a student political meeting she was chairing, when a man steps from the bushes, shouts, ‘You bloody murdering bastard,’ and fires both barrels of a shotgun. The blast kills Emma, leaving widower Ronnie now entirely alone in life. As Eric Clapton’s bluesy, mournful guitar highlights the policeman’s desolation, the question remains, was the killer after Ronnie or Emma? Finding a gun and Geiger counter among Emma’s belongings – and that a lock of his daughter’s hair is radioactive – Ronnie heads to London to start snooping. When the mysterious Pendleton (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s assistant) makes contact and suggests Emma was a terrorist, it is clear she was mixed up with dangerous forces. Craven then finds out his daughter was one of six women who broke into a nuclear plant, all of whom are now dead. The plot twists as it gradually unfolds, and Ronnie’s compulsion to find out what happened is emotionally charged by ghostly flashbacks of moments with Emma. The story ends on a bleak but powerful environmental point, Troy Kennedy Martin (Z-Cars, The Italian Job) having written the series in frustration that ‘at the BBC there was no political dimension to their drama whatsoever’, and suspecting it would not be made. These days he would probably be right and such an ambitious drama, argumentative and with an almost mythic dimension – inspired by James Lovelock’s Gaia theory of the Earth as a single living entity, which Craven was fighting for – would not be produced. It is a series that grew out of the Cold War, but was ahead of its time in its fears for the environment. Edge of Darkness was critically acclaimed, Bob Peck’s performance was praised and the series won six Baftas (including best drama series and best actor).
Musical score: Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen
Classic episode: The last episode, entitled Fusion, sees Craven, suffering from radiation poisoning, uncovering the true extent and jeopardy of the nuclear conspiracy. The story reaches a tragic, but poetic ending.
Watercooler fact: Edge of Darkness made Bob Peck, until then best known for his stage roles, into a TV star. He died of cancer aged just 53 in 1994, after having gone on to numerous film and TV roles, including an appearance in Jurassic Park as park gamekeeper Robert Muldoon.