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'Dancing on the Edge' TV review: Jazz Age elegance

Chiwetel Ejiofor is having a moment.

The British actor is getting Oscar buzz for the film "12 Years a Slave," which RedEye movie critic Matt Pais has given a rare 4-star review. He's also a big reason to watch the five-part miniseries "Dancing on the Edge" (9 p.m. CT Oct. 19, Starz; 3 stars out of 4).

Ejiofor plays Louis Lester, a British-born bandleader in 1930s London who has struggled to find paying gigs for his band until his music transfixes music writer Stanley Mitchell (Matthew Goode). Mitchell manages to get the all-black ensemble booked into a ritzy hotel where aristocrats and other rather stuffy folks wine and dine.

A friend of Mitchell's, Donaldson (Anthony Head)—whose only job, it seems, is being wealthy—suggests to Louis that he get a female singer. He hires two: Jessie (Angel Coulby) and Carla (Wunmi Mosaku). And with that, he also gets the attention of jazz-crazy future British kings Edward and George.

The royal duo, just by seeking command performances, makes the reimagined Louis Lester Band the talk of London's high society.

But it's still the 1930s, and prejudice, bigotry and poverty dull the sparkle of party time. Most of his progressive-thinking patrons abandon Louis without a second thought when tragedy strikes. Ejiofor gives an emotionally rich performance as Louis watches all he has built tumble around him.

Ejiofor's is one of several striking performances. John Goodman blusters convincingly as an American mogul called Masterson. Goode matches the marvelous Jacqueline Bisset, who plays the reclusive-yet-influential Lady Cremone. Coulby and Mosaku surprise with their more-than-capable singing of original jazz tunes by Adrian Johnston.

Though the gorgeous production starts out slowly and has its pompous moments, it's ultimately worth your time.

Writer, director and exec producer Stephen Poliakoff based his story loosely on accounts of the real Duke Ellington Band rubbing elbows with royalty in Europe.

He throws in a troubling murder mystery and a romance that's controversial for that time, but keeps focus on themes that still resonate today—racism, classism, mistrust of immigrants, abuse of power and the fickleness of fame (or of those who grant it).

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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