By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 23, 2011 at 9:20AM
His name might be pretty much unfamiliar to all but the most fervent Anglophiles, but Stephen Poliakoff is something of a legend among British writers. He started his career as a playwright in the 1970s, before moving into television, which has hosted the bulk of his work, followed by feature films like "Hidden City" and "Close Your Eyes," with Alan Rickman and Clive Owen. Poliakoff's consistently idiosyncratic, often oblique dramas have become a brand in to themselves, making him one of the few writers who can continually bring in huge audiences for serious, adult television when it airs on the BBC.
Recent years have seen him directing the bulk of his work, and teaming with some of the biggest names around, including Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt in "Gideon's Daughter." But his last project, a rare big-screen venture, the World War II thriller "Glorious 39," with Romola Garai, Eddie Redmayne, Christopher Lee, David Tennant, among many others, was a serious misstep, a tedious, turgid picture that managed the seemingly impossible and got a bad performance out of Bill Nighy. Poliakoff's last effort was penning a short film for the World Wildlife Fund starring Nighy, Gemma Arterton and Christian McKay (watch it below), but he's going back to TV for his next, and if the casting is anything to go by, it's already a big step up from "Glorious 39."
Screen Daily announce that shooting will soon get underway for "Dancing on the Edge," a drama series intended for BBC Two to be written and co-directed by Poliakoff, which will be lead by the particularly exciting pairing of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew Goode. The plot involves a black jazz group, named the Louis Lester Band, who entertain London's high society in the early 1930s, before becoming caught up in a mysterious death. The project is being co-produced by Ruby Films ("Jane Eyre"), for whom Poliakoff is also writing a feature script (according to Baz Bamigboye a few months back).
Phillippa Lowthorpe ("Five Daughters") is co-directing, and the supporting cast includes Jacqueline Bisset ("Bullitt"), Janet Montgomery ("Black Swan") Joanna Vanderham ("The Runaway"), Tom Hughes ("Cemetery Junction"), Angel Coulby ("Merlin"), Wunmi Mosaku ("Moses Jones"), Mel Smith ("The Princess Bride"), Anthony Head ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), Caroline Quentin ("Jonathan Creek") and Jane Asher ("Death at a Funeral").
Anyone who's been paying attention knows that we think Ejiofor is one of the most exciting actors out there at present, and, while Goode gets a bad rap from his "Watchmen" performance, he's capable of great work too, not least in Scott Frank's "The Lookout," so it's a hugely enticing pairing, especially considering how in-demand both actors are in Hollywood. Goode has just wrapped Park Chan-Wook's "Stoker" with Nicole Kidman, while Ejiofor will follow this up with the lead in Steve McQueen's "Twelve Years A Slave" with Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender. A 16-week shoot will get underway, and the end-prouduct will be a full TV series (we imagine at least six parts), a first for Poliakoff. No word on where it might air in the US, but BBC America or PBS are, as ever, good bets.