DVD Review – Ultraviolet: The Complete Series (1998)

Ultraviolet, 1998.

Created by Joe Ahearne.
Starring Jack Davenport, Susannah Harker, Idris Elba and Philip Quast.



A police detective is thrown into the world of vampires when hunting for his missing partner.


The whole world is in a state of despair, and the people in it are under threat from distinctly un-sexy vampires in Ultraviolet. This is London, 1998. We’re pre-Twilight, and here the blood-hungry undead are like the Mafia mixed with the Masons. The night creatures of Ultraviolet are evil opportunists through and through, a helpful simplification given that they don’t get much in the way of detailed backstory.
Instead, we get to know this world intermittently, often confusingly, as writer/director Joe Ahearne assumes we know as much as he does about his creation. Many character relationships ring false, the exception being between Jack Davenport’s rookie vampire hunter and Idris Elba’s cynical veteran. Davenport’s establishing scene with supposed best bud Stephen Moyer sees them awkwardly explaining their history through forced exposition. It’s also so serious and acted so gravely that it sometimes resembles the parody of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.
That doesn’t stop Ultraviolet being watchable, it looking and sounding good enough that script misgivings don’t harm it too badly. There’s a sense of unease in the nigh-on black and white colour palette and the beautifully gothic score. The dialogue may be rich with cliché, but the series has an ambitious, apocalyptic approach to horror. Even the minimalistic credits are filled with dread.
There’s a look of doom, too, in the face of every character, a pale-faced Davenport leading proceedings with a noir-tinged slump. Davenport, tumbling down the rabbit hole with world-weary resignation, is one of two exceptions to a forgettable cast, a typically magnetic Elba being the other. It’s clear that Elba hasn’t aged a single day, and the evidence here suggests screen presence has been with him from the start. When the two team up, it’s when the show makes the most sense. There’s a surprising chemistry to their pairing, even a sense of humour in a show that mostly lacks it.
Thankfully, Ultraviolet doesn’t have ideas above its station – this is a vampire drama after all. Only the ponderous third episode clumsily tries dealing with hot button topics of the time, like IVF treatment and the pro-life versus pro-choice debate. Though ‘90s London defies glamorous makeover (this was well before Welcome to the Punch and Trance’s success at transforming the capital into a glistening cityscape), the show gets close to looking like a slick American-style thriller. Even if Britain doesn’t lend itself a sense of cool like the U.S. so naturally does.

Ultraviolet is far from perfect, but has enough strength for further seasons to capitalise on. Of course, there was never to be another series, a decision that squandered a strong concept, moody style and two solid actors that would have to go and find success elsewhere. Elba is finally making a name for himself in Hollywood, but Davenport’s star hasn’t budged all that much since his turn in Ultraviolet, mostly languishing in boring supporting roles even though his work here begs for a leading man reinvention in U.S. TV (Smash doesn’t count). If Stephen Moyer – who makes a distinctly wooden guest appearance in Ultraviolet – can manage it, there has to be a space open for Davenport. 

Brogan Morris – Lover of film, writer of words, pretentious beyond belief. Thinks Scorsese and Kubrick are the kings of cinema, but PT Anderson and David Fincher are the young princes. Follow Brogan on Twitter if you can take shameless self-promotion.

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