THE 1930s was a time of social change, political upheaval and all that jazz. It also provides the backdrop to writer-director Stephen Poliakoff’s new five-part drama, telling the story of fictional group of black musicians who become all the rage among Britain’s upper-classes.
Dancing On The Edge
Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays band leader Louis Lester, believes the viewers will soon become fans as well.
“I think people will relate to the show on a number of different levels”, he says. “It’s amazing to have this music from this time. It’s incredible to have this cross-cultural group mixing with each other in this way.
“I think Stephen beautifully captures the language and the forms of expression that they have, the way they live their lives and what it means to them.”
Another big draw is the cast. As well as Ejiofor, whose previous credits include the movies Salt and Children Of Men, and last year’s acclaimed TV series The Shadow Line, Dancing on the Edge also stars everyone from Angel Coulby and Matthew Goode to John Goodman and Jacqueline Bisset, via Jane Asher and new Doctor Who assistant Jenna Louise Coleman.
And of course, being a period drama, there’s also the clothes. The costume was particularly important for Ejiofor’s character. “The way Louis dressed himself is a major part of the way in which he presented himself and how he does find himself being accepted into certain parts of society. For me, he seems a very elegant man, wanting to present himself in the most glamorous light he can,” says Ejiofor.
As the series opens, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly glamorous about the Louis Lester Band, who are stuck playing a shabby venue. Fortunately, they find a champion in music journalist Stanley (Goode), who feels an affinity with the band leader.
Ejiofor says: “Both Louis and Stanley are hungry for something. In a structure where people are born into privilege and where class is so prevalent, that hunger to break barriers is something that propels them.”
Stanley manages to get the band a booking at a hotel, and while most of the elderly clientele don’t know what to make of the performers and their newfangled sound, one group of socialites like what they hear and invite the band to play at a private party for Prince George.
But while The Louis Lester Band may be taking the upper classes by storm, finding patrons in the form of beautiful siblings Julian (Tom Hughes) and Pamela Luscombe (Joanna Vanderham) and the glamorous Lady Lavinia Cremone (Bisset), they still face difficulties ranging from the run-ins with the Alien Registration Office to the death of one of their members, not to mention the racism of the time.
As Ejiofor points out: “I think the wider issues of England at this time was that the country was right on the cusp of really significant change, with people having to make really detailed and profound choices; not only of who they wanted to be but what kind of place they wanted to live in.”