The convoluted story does not so much develop as evolve through a series of stages. To begin with, it is a murder mystery. Then it becomes a political thriller. Then a spy movie. Next, an action piece. Finally, it unwinds in an existential meditation on life and death. Its politics are bit leftward-leaning, and there is a whole anti-nuke, "environmental message" thing ultimately worked in at the end, but the writing is skillful enough to rise above mere rhetoric and take Edge of Darkness into the realm of art.
The performances by Bob Peck, Joanne Whalley, and a host of familiar BBC faces are uniformly excellent. Even Joe Don Baker is good as the American CIA agent Darius Jedburgh (or "Jed-borough", as a Scottish character calls him). As an American, I am always amused by the stereotypes other cultures have of us. Viewed through British (or in director Martin Campbell's case, Australasian) eyes, Jedburgh becomes a roguish gunslinger in white, having apparently just stepped out of the same silver screen occupied by John Wayne and Randolph Scott. Baker is game, playing the "cowboy" angle to the hilt. (He would later perform similar duty in the Campbell-directed James Bond film Goldeneye). It is encouraging that he is ultimately a good guy, despite the "taint" of Reagan/Thatcher politics.
The late Bob Peck is the real standout, though. I cannot imagine anyone else playing the role of detective Ron Craven, whose shattering personal journey gives Edge of Darkness its soul. His performance is completely authentic as he embodies a man who has lost everything, whose only reason for going on is to bring justice to those who murdered his daughter. We have seen this sort of thing before, of course, but rarely realized with such verisimilitude. We sense that if such things really happened as depicted in Edge of Darkness, they would happen pretty much they way they're shown.
It's a shame that Peck was not better utilized in those big, slick, (though often hollow) films that we make in this country. Most Americans will remember him, if they think of him at all, as the Australian hunter in Jurassic Park. His big line, spoken just before becoming a velociraptor's lunch, was "Clever girl!" He managed to invest those two words with subtle shades of dread and admiration, as his character briefly contemplated the brutal speed with which his own mortality was upon him.
Edge of Darkness will leave you feeling pretty much the same way.
Everything works, and works well - the clever, non-linear direction is never annoying, the writing is intelligent, everything progresses with brutal, cold logic, and it all seems so much more serious, more 'real' than other television dramas of the time (with the possible exception of the early 'Taggart'). The acting is superb - Joe Don Baker's character may be a stereotype, but he makes it work, and the late Bob Peck is almost disturbingly intense. It's a shame that, for most people, he will be remembered as the unfortunate trapper from 'Jurassic Park' (or the narrator of countless nature documentaries).
It remains with you when its over, the music is excellent, and key images (nuclear trains at the dead of night, driving rain on the motorway, a room full of telephones, a field of umbrellas, and little black flowers) haunt you forever.