Ultraviolet

Tagged: TV

UK tv series (1998). Channel 4, World Productions. Directed by Joe Ahearne. Written by Joe Ahearne. Cast includes Colette Brown, Jack Davenport, Idris Elba, Susannah Harker, Stephen Moyer, Philip Quast and Corin Redgrave. Six 50-minute episodes. Colour.

London detective Michael Colefield (Davenport) is co-opted into a covert task force investigating crimes committed by a group of Secret Masters, never explicitly identified, but unmistakably Vampires.

Ultraviolet succeeds at examining vampire lore through a lens that owes far more to sf than horror (see Horror in SF). It is, to all intents and purposes, a Technothriller with carbon-tipped bullets and garlic-scented smoke grenades, in which a relatively low-ranking subaltern in the world of Crime and Punishment is afforded glimpses of a vast conspiracy that may be the opening moves of a Future War. Vampires are regarded as a "public health" issue by the British secret service; their existence is covered up by both sides to prevent mass panic, and their nemeses include a Vatican priest (Quast), a haematologist (Harker) and a Gulf War veteran (Elba), each traumatized in their own way by previous encounters with the undead. The vampires are a community with long-term, multi-generational goals untroubled by a sense of Time Abyss, active in the investigation of blood diseases because AIDS is a threat to their food supply. The threat of Climate Change has caused them to plan a cull of the human race, the march towards self-destruction of which threatens the vampires who have thus far shared the Earth with them in questionable harmony (see Parasitism and Symbiosis).

Class and privilege weigh heavily on the portrayal of the serial's predatory, immortal antagonists, adept in the habitus of late capitalism and the manipulation of its systems. The high-ranking vampires we see are mainly charismatic, amoral Old Etonians with a sinister power of Hypnosis, most notably Paul (Redgrave), who falsely claims that vampire experiments with artificial blood are a peace gesture, rather than their true purpose, which is as a food stockpile in the event of a Nuclear Winter. In a tense debate with his captors, he raises trenchant issues about the morality of the humans' conduct (one man's anti-terror unit is another man's "death squad"), and off-handedly suggests that all religion, including that of the priests that hunt him, is a Shaggy God Story based solely on legends about his species.

An American remake was planned but did not advance beyond the pilot stage. Made in the shadow of the decade's prime paranormal anthology, The X-Files (1993-2002), elements of Ultraviolet can be nevertheless be discerned in much of the quality genre Television work of years that followed it, including the ethical qualms and Paranoia of Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), and the tense cross-species detente of True Blood (2008-2014). Writer-director Ahearne would later apply similar attitudes in Apparitions (2008), which focused on the procedural and political trials of a Vatican exorcist (see Gods and Demons). [JonC]

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