Edge of Darkness — Killer TV No 24

BBC2, 1985

‘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.


logosALONG WITH State of Play and A Very British Coup (1988 version), Edge of Darkness is the finest political thriller made by British Edge of Darknesstelevision. 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.

Third degree: Ian Rankin

Ken Stott as Rebus with Claire Price as Siobhan Clarke

WE’VE dragged one of Britain’s major crime practitioners in for questioning. Multi-award-winning Ian Rankin is the creator of Edinburgh detective inspector John Rebus, the tenacious but chippy hero of bestsellers such as Black and Blue, Fleshmarket Close and Resurrection Men. The character was turned into a series by STV with first John Hannah and then Ken Stott portraying him. ITV filmed Rankin’s standalone novel Doors Open in 2012. After retiring Rebus in Exit Music, he introduced his readers to Malcolm Fox in The Complaints, before bringing Rebus back in 2012’s Standing in Another Man’s Grave.

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?

Edge of Darkness.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?

Hill Street Blues.

Do you watch much TV these days, and if you do, which crime series are you enjoying?

I don’t watch much TV. Other media seem to get in the way. I find myself stockpiling DVD box sets for that elusive rainy day.

All-time top TV cop?

Top TV cop has to be Jack Regan. No, wait – Columbo. Or Jane Tennison…

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
I’d love to see Adrian McKinty’s Troubles-era Northern Ireland books on TV or film.

Rebus has already been filmed by ITV, but what about Malcolm Fox? Which actor would be good playing him?

I never have a clear idea of my main characters’ faces and physiques so it’s hard for me to say who
the perfect actor would be. Sean Connery once told me that if he’d been 20 years younger he’d have jumped at the chance to play Rebus.

Least favourite cop show/thriller?

I thought TV made a right hash of Liza Cody’s terrific Anna Lee books.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?

The Sopranos probably edges it, despite the ending.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Never a huge fan of Agatha. So it has to be Sherlock. I was very impressed by the modern reworking of the character and stories.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Ooh, tough. Branagh is always watchable, even when not doing very much. But I have to plump for the original, don’t I?

US or British television crime dramas?

Robbie Coltrane as Cracker

I like both, but I’m feeling patriotic, so I’ll say UK. Prime Suspect, Life on Mars, Cracker – all British, all class.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?

To be comprehensive, it would be a very long list. It would include Ruth Rendell, Lawrence Block, Leo Malet, Michael Connelly, but also Pascal Garnier (who I’ve just discovered), etc etc…

Have you read a crime novel that’s really knocked you out lately?

Pascal Garnier’s The Islanders. Is it crime? Psychological suspense? His books are like non-Maigret Simenon novels.

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?

Again, there are so many: Muriel Spark, Thomas Pynchon, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson…

Favourite crime movie or thriller?

The Third Man. Or The Godfather. Or The Maltese Falcon. Maybe The Long Good Friday. Or Get Carter…

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?

It would have to be Rebus. He knows the territory and has a pretty solid record.

Ian’s latest Rebus novel is Saints of the Shadow Bible, which is out now in paperback. For all the latest on him, check out ianrankin.net

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