PBS: ‘Dancing on the Edge’ has style and diversity

In the Post-Downton Abbey world, if you’re looking  for some stylish entertainment, turn again to PBS and its series “Dancing on the Edge” which follows a journalist who is helping promote a homegrown all black jazz band in England.

The series was broadcast in the United Kingdom in 2013, but is making its PBS premiere this summer. You can still view the first episode online (until July 9, 2016). Matthew Goode plays Stanley Mitchell, a music journalist at Music Express magazine. Goode is the man who played Henry Talbot, Lady Mary Crawley’s second husband.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is Louis Lester, the band leader of the Louis Lester Band. Native of London, he traveled as a merchant seaman. The series begins at the end, with Louis Lester having a cut hand and hiding from the police with the held of Stanley Mitchell. Then there’s a flashback. the Louis Lester Band is playing in a small basement. The band has already caught the attention of Stanley Mitchell. On the advice of an acquaintance of Mitchell’s the band adds two singers (Angle Coulby and Wunmi Mosaku). By the end of Episode 1, the band has been invited to play at a garden party for aristocrats, including a surprise appearance.

The band has a manager, Wesley Holt (Ariyon Bakare) who has lost his British birth certificate after living most of his life in Chicago. Holt cannot go back to Chicago because he had an affair with a married white woman who has now accused him of rape. Holt’s behavior during Episode 2 causes trouble at the group’s hotel gig but the group is saved when the future king, Prince George, notifies the Imperial Hotel that he will make his first visit there expressly to hear the Louis Lester Band. “What he likes today, the whole of London likes tomorrow,” says the Imperial Hotel manager Nathan Schlesinger (Mel Smith).

In the mix, there’s a rich American, Walter Masterson (John Goodman), the reclusive Lady Cremone (Jacqueline Bisset) and Mr. Masterson’s aid, Julian Luscombe (Tom Hughes). The Nazis are on the rise and during Episode 3, Germans walk out on a performance.

Instead of upstairs-downstairs drama, there’s both the up and down of classes with the added interest in race and the rise of a new music genre closely associated with American black musicians. The generation gap widens as Europe heads toward war.  Episode 3 airs on July 10, 2016 at 8 p.m. Check local listings.

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