EDGE OF DARKNESS
On the dvd extras, writer Troy Kennedy Martin explains how Edge of Darkness he began writing the project in response to then conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatchers policies. He wrote more as an attempt to voice his frustration than with any clear idea that the series would end up being made. As such, Edge of Darkness is a snapshot of the zeitgeist of the English nation in the early-to-mid-1980s. Troy Kennedy Martin touches all the hot button issues of the day the Thatcher government (there are even images from news broadcasts on tv of Mrs Thatcher defending the use of the nuclear deterrent), the governments shadowy backroom deals with American corporations, Mrs Thatchers crushing of the miners strike in the mid-1980s, student political activism, the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and the high-profile womens protest camp established outside the Greenham Common airfield where nuclear weapons were being stored, the prototypic environmentalist movement, Ronald Reagans Star Wars defence initiative, as well as Irish Republican terrorism in the background. That a mini-series can manage to cram so much political commentary in and still be compulsively watchable and not preachy didacticism is all to Troy Kennedy Martins credit.
It is a script where Troy Kennedy Martin has done his research on subjects like nuclear power (which proves refreshing in response to most treatments of nuclear power in science-fiction). Director Martin Campbell is enormously well attuned to Kennedy Martins writing, allowing much of the series to take place in quiet understatement rather than opening it up into big dramatics. One of the wittiest scenes is where Joe Don Baker returns from assignment in South America and walks into the embassy quarters dressed in military combat khakis, upends a golf bag to dump the contents onto the floor, which consist of golf clubs, machine-guns and bottles of alcohol, before wandering into the next room to find a colleague crying and asks him Did you tape the finale of Come Dancing? it is a scene that suggests all manner of character attributes and yet keeps subverting and playing them off one another without ever saying a single word of direct dialogue.
The story slowly and seductively absorbs one its dark mystery. Few other filmed works have done such a haunting job in portraying the shadowy corridors of power and the machinations that go on between high-level agencies. One of the finest aspects of the mini-series is Eric Claptons guitar score, which echoes with haunting effect throughout. Even the image that replays through several of the earlier episodes of trains of presumably nuclear waste creaking their way off into the night imbues the series with evocative effect as though the trains are carrying the nuclear nightmare into a literal edge of darkness.
A thriller about the politics of nuclear power is not one that should necessarily concern us here as science-fiction, but where Edge of Darkness does broach genre material is during the last episode where Troy Kennedy Martin expands the scope of the series out from being a political thriller onto a global scale to offer a grim vision of the future. The conference contains a stunningly written scene that contrasts Jerry Grogans promulgation of humanitys future in space up against Jedburghs accusation that this will become less a universe of opportunity than a Wild West frontier governed by monopoly capitalism and run with a ruthless hand. (One of the uncanny things about Edge of Darkness in retrospect is how the character of nuclear power tycoon Jerry Grogan resembles an older version of Bill Gates which in turn creates uncanny resonances between Grogan the plutonium entrepreneur who is tensed to run much of the world and Gatess subsequent takeover of the domain of computing).
One of the most fascinating aspects of Edge of Darkness is when Troy Kennedy Martin goes way off on a tangent regarding speculative environmental theories, introducing the idea that the Earth will protect itself from environmental damage with the creation of black flowers that draw heat from the sun and create warm patches that allow life to flourish, as apparently happened during the Ice Ages. Here, Troy Kennedy Martin has taken the concept from a section in James Lovelocks book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (1977). (The principal thesis of Lovelocks book was that the Earth was a single living organism, which he called Gaia, and that it compensates in the same way that the health of a human body keeps itself in balance. This Gaia concept has taken off in New Age/Mother Goddess thinking during the 1990s, although scientists have criticised Lovelocks denotation of purpose to non-intelligent organisms and lack of proof for such global self-regulation. Troy Kennedy Martin would appear to advocate this mystical belief in the Earth as a quasi-sentient entity a spring mysteriously appears where Joanne Whalley was shot, as though the entire Earth is in sympathy for her political activism). Troy Kennedy Martins thesis prefigures many themes that gained popularity in the environmental and anti-globalism movements of the 1990s and beyond. On one side, Kennedy Martin contrasts a ruthless corporate power that even has governments at its beck and call, against a notion of the Earth itself fighting back against greed, exploitation and the environmental ruin this is causing. The haunting last image of the mini-series is of the black flowers growing in the Scottish Highlands.
One of the other fascinating fantastical aspects of the mini-series is the character of Joanne Whalley who is bumped off early in the first episode but continues to turn up throughout the rest of the series. Whether she is a ghost or a figment of Bob Pecks decaying insanity is left carefully ambiguous. We presume the latter, but then she also imparts information that Peck could not possibly know directions to find the map hidden in a book in the kitchen, providing information about the black flowers that suggests she has some ontological existence.
One complaint might be made that the various plot machinations become so convoluted that it is difficult to work out who was behind everything. Despite the mini-series being set around Bob Pecks quest for who was responsible for killing his daughter, it is never entirely clear at the end who authorised the killing. Furthermore, while the initial episodes give the impression that Bob Peck is startled to find that Joanne Whalley was involved with Gaia and that her body is suffused with radiation, the flashbacks confusingly give the impression that she tried to recruit him to lead the expedition down into Northmoor and therefore he must have known something. The biggest piece of confusion is where the end revelations seem to improbably indicate that it was Jerry Grogan that called The President to give Jedburgh orders to break into Northmoor and bring back the plutonium in order to embarrass Grogan and scupper his own takeover deal. Apparently, Troy Kennedy Martin wanted to end the mini-series with Bob Peck killed and transformed into a Green Man tree being protecting the Earth, but this was nixed for a more mundane ending, purportedly at the instigation of Bob Peck. It is a bizarre left field ending that would almost certainly have left audiences of the day scratching their heads.
Edge of Darkness brought to attention the great and quiet-spoken Bob Peck, whose virtue was always in portraying an ordinary man with complete sympathy. Peck went onto a promising career with roles in genre films like Slipstream (1989), Jurassic Park (1993) and another British mini-series Natural Lies (1992), which tried to conduct an Edge of Darkness with Mad Cow Disease conspiracies, before his death of cancer in 1999. Here, in the first episode in particular, Peck gives an exceptional performance as a man who seems to be carrying the weight of the world upon his shoulders. The sense of shock and bewilderment that plays out on his face as he sits on Joanne Whalleys bed holding the gun he has found among her things in one hand a teddy bear in another is potent it is a scene that needs to say nothing, all the confusion about what has happened to his sweet and innocent daughter is registered by the visual image. (For some reason, one image that always remains from when I first saw Edge of Darkness is of Bob Peck sitting on the bed kissing his daughters vibrator in his grief an image that manages to be both incredibly tender and at the same time mildly indecent). Edge of Darkness also featured the lovely Joanne Whalley. Aged 21, this was Whalleys first high-profile role and she subsequently appeared in The Singing Detective and then found stardom in George Lucass Willow (1988) and Scandal (1989). There are equally good performances from Charles Kay and Ian McNeice as perfectly clipped and banally understated bureaucrats.
Of course, the one performance the lights up the entire mini-series is Joe Don Baker as Jedburgh. Before Edge of Darkness, Joe Don Baker was known for 1970s drive-in classics like Junior Bonner (1972), Charley Varrick (1973) and Walking Tall (1973), usually playing Southern law enforcement, and the odd genre item such as The Pack (1977) and Shadow of Chikara (1977), but Jedburgh is the finest role in Bakers lengthy career. Baker plays to the gallery in a wonderfully gregarious caricature of a vulgar American but one that is also shot through with a piercing intelligence. The dialogue that Baker gets positively shines, be it he drunkenly singing Johnny Cash songs or the barnstorming scene where he takes over the conference and produces two pieces of fissile plutonium. The latter is a dramatic show capper where Troy Kennedy Martins writing is utterly stunning. It is one of the great dramatic scenes of the 1980s.
The story was later remade as a feature film Edge of Darkness (2010) by the mini-series director Martin Campbell. The story was transferred to the US with the role of Craven played by Mel Gibson and with Ray Winstone inheriting Jedburgh. This could be politely termed as a travesty that abandons almost all of the nuclear power and environmental aspects and merely becomes a corporate whistleblower film with an angry Mel Gibson on a rampage determined to find the truth about his daughters murder.
Screenwriter Troy Kennedy Martin also wrote films such as The Italian Job (1969), Kellys Heroes (1970) and the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Red Heat (1988), as well as episodes of British tv series like Z Cars (1962-78) and The Sweeney (1975-8), the mini-series Reilly, Ace of Spies (1983) and the nuclear war black comedy The Old Men at the Zoo (1983). Director Martin Campbell had previously gained a name on various British tv series and as director of several episodes of Reilly, Ace of Spies. The success of Edge of Darkness launched Martin Campbells cinematic career with films that include the serial killer thriller Criminal Law (1988), the tv movie Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) about detective in an alternate world where magic works, the future prison film No Escape (1994), the James Bond films GoldenEye (1995) and Casino Royale (2006), the Zorro films The Mask of Zorro (1998) and The Legend of Zorro (2005), the cinematic remake of Edge of Darkness (2010), and the DC Comics superhero adaptation Green Lantern (2011).