Stephen Poliakoff's first major TV series, Dancing on the Edge, set to air on BBC2

Posted on 1 February 2013

Set in the early 1930’s, the period drama follows black jazz musicians, the Louis Lester Band, as they find fame among London’s upper classes.

While many dislike the presence of black performers, other more progressive socialites warmly welcome them. But, when someone is found murdered, the band’s world starts crumbling around them.

It’s a scene redolent of a kind of glamour that belongs firmly in the past: a vast, high ballroom, fully 100ft long, with ornate plasterwork, massive Corinthian pillars and rows of lovely Art Deco light fittings.

You’d feel the need to dress up to the nines merely to justify your presence in such a room, and everyone has done just that – the men in black tie, the women in drop-dead couture creations that cling to their bodies.

Seats and tables are concentrated at the back of the room, leaving floor space for dancing; at the other end is a stage with a striking Deco-styled backdrop in muted colours.

An 11-piece band of black jazz musicians, fronted by two female singers, belts out a driving, infectious swing tune called Dead of Night Express. It looks and sounds like a glimpse of the 1930s – which is exactly the point.

This is a key moment in Dancing on the Edge, a wildly ambitious six-hour BBC drama set in 1930s Britain. Written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, it surveys the nation through two years (1931-33) of this eventful decade through an unusual prism – the experiences of a fictional jazz band, led by the pianist Louis Lester (Chiwetel Ejiofor). They become fashionable enough to play chic hotels and clubs for a high-society crowd, but because of their race must enter and exit venues by the back door.

The five-part series has an all-star cast, with appearances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew Goode, Anthony Head, Caroline Quentin, Mel Smith, Jacqueline Bisset and Jane Asher, plus The Paradise’s Joanna Vanderham, Merlin’s Angel Coulby and Entourage’s Janet Montgomery.

Mon 4th Feb 9pm on BBC 2 – Part 1

Tues 5th Feb 9pm on BBC 2 – Part 2

It will then continue on Monday nights at 9pm, with repeats on Sunday nights

Stephen Poliakoff's first major TV series, Dancing on the Edge, set to air on BBC2