'Dancing on the Edge' review: Lifeless Starz import

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Louis, Janet Montgomery as Sarah, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Louis, Janet Montgomery as Sarah, Mathew Goode as Stanley and Joanne Vanderham as Pamela In Stephen Poliakoff's "Dancing on the Edge." Photo Credit: Starz

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REVIEW

THE SERIES "Dancing on the Edge"

WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 10 p.m. on Starz, then, subsequent Saturdays through Nov. 16, at 9 p.m.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Louis Lester Band struggles from gig to gig in 1930s London, when fate -- or at least a smitten music critic -- intervenes. Stanley Mitchell (Matthew Goode) is so taken with this new sound that he assures Louis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) he can book him at a fine if rather stuffy hotel. The manager, Donaldson (Anthony Head), is impressed but offers a suggestion -- get a singer. Louis does -- Jessie (Angel Coulby) -- and with that shrewd casting move, Louis Lester's luxe big band groove finds a rhythm and employment. That's essential because deportation looms for some members, or at least one, dodging a murder rap stateside. Before long, the Louis Lester band is consorting with royalty, as well as one mysterious American mogul, Masterson (John Goodman.) What's his deal? That's a mystery . . . Same with Lady Cremone (Jaqueline Bisset) who arrives later in the series.

MY SAY This five-parter, which aired on BBC Two last winter, was written by distinguished English playwright Stephen Poliakoff -- best known perhaps to U.S. TV viewers from 2006's Golden Globe winner "Gideon's Daughter." For that among other reasons -- most notably Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave") in the lead role -- "Dancing" doesn't immodestly suggest that you should watch, but fairly shouts out that you should. Period dramas are hot, and one that fictionally weaves characters meant to evoke Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington during their triumphant march through European high society during the 1930s should be even hotter. Except: "Dancing on the Edge" is cold, ice-cold. At least during tomorrow's two-hour open (which I sampled), "Edge" never thawed, never once shook off a hard mantle of frost. What went wrong? Perhaps ultimately nothing. By all means, go ahead: You watch all five parts, but be sure to dress warmly if you do. Maybe the sun will eventually come out. There's beauty here, and subtle humor, and some good performances. What's missing is passion, joy and (ultimately) interest. Even the music -- original score by Adrian Johnson, a prolific film and theatrical composer -- seems like an afterthought at times. A film about musicians who only occasionally play music?

BOTTOM LINE Lifeless

GRADE C+

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