sat 13/07/2024

Luther, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Luther, BBC One

Luther, BBC One

New six-part cop show is long on production values but short on originality

'You looking at me?' Idris Elba as the menacing DCI John Luther

Idris Elba’s screen career is going so swimmingly that you wonder what can have tempted him back to Blighty. Probably not the weather, since the former denizen of Canning Town now lives in Florida, and is in perpetual demand Stateside thanks to the extreme hotness engendered by his portrayal of Russell “Stringer” Bell in The Wire.

He was in the American version of The Office, co-starred with Beyoncé in Obsessed, has several movies in production and will executive-produce a new legal drama series for NBC.

So, Idris Elba, where did it all go wrong? I jest, of course. Slightly. Luther is perfectly watchable, beautifully shot, and indeed quite diverting. Elba broods majestically, when not throwing people across the room or smashing doors with his bare hands. Snag is, the plot is ridiculous, and a batch of rather fine actors have been persuaded to throw subtlety and logic to the winds and to portray characters which veer wildly between cliché and implausibility, rarely reaching any kind of equilibrium in between.

Elba’s pivotal role of DCI John Luther was surely constructed by writer Neil Cross by raiding a graveyard filled with the crumbling bones of old detective series. Luther is a maverick, a loose cannon, a man on the edge who breaks the rules to get results! We learn this immediately, since the opening scene consists of Luther ferociously pursuing his quarry (serial child killer Henry Madsen) around an abandoned factory. Finally he has Madsen at his mercy, hanging from a girder by his fingertips several floors up. Luther won’t offer any help to the panicking felon until he reveals the whereabouts of his latest victim. Then, once he has divulged this information, Luther still can’t bring himself to lend a helping hand, and watches as Madsen plummets to the concrete floor below.

The action proper begins after Luther has survived an official inquiry by virtue of “exceptional circumstances” (wisely, nobody tries to explain this in any detail), though nemesis is left lurking in his peripheral vision by the knowledge that Madsen is in a coma, so might wake up at some point in the remaining five episodes and spill the beans on Luther’s churlish behaviour.

Cross's tactic is to leave no ‘tec tic unticked, and he has supplied Luther with the de rigueur failing marriage. His wife Zoe (Indira Varma) still loves him, you understand, but she can’t stand any more of his professional obsessiveness, the way he gets all morbid and driven in his relentless pursuit of murderers and rapists. She has taken up with Mark North (Paul McGann), a rather insipid human rights lawyer who has to fend off the raging Luther when he comes battering at the door like an angry water buffalo tormented by hornets.

Luckily, crimes keep being committed in order to keep Luther occupied. He’s soon checking out the cold-blooded murder of a middle-aged couple and their unfortunate family dog. Luther interrogates their daughter, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson, pictured below, playing it 1,000 degrees foxier than she did in Jane Eyre), and teases out the information that she is a former child science prodigy with a PhD in astrophysics.

This tees up some clonkingly mechanical banter about dark matter and black holes, with which Luther displays an astonishing degree of familiarity, venturing the observation about dark matter that “we know it’s there, but we can’t see it.” Just like Ms Morgan’s guilt, as it turns out, which Luther brilliantly reveals when he tricks her into not yawning empathetically at the same time as he does.

So, since we knew whodunnit within about 15 minutes, the mainspring of the plot has become how Luther can prove the precocious Morgan’s guilt before she can devise another perfect murder with him as the victim. Already she has shown us a vivid gallery of wigs and threatened Mrs Luther by sticking a hatpin in her ear, and the way she used a Glock pistol made of polymer as a murder weapon and then shoved it inside the dead dog to be cremated was a fiendish touch.

Who will prevail, the cool and ruthless Alice Morgan or the intuitive but unstable Luther? I can’t say, but I could have a darn good guess.

Elba broods majestically, when not throwing people across the room or smashing doors with his bare hands

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Mere pedantry, of course, but an "n" has gone astray in "loose cannon". Perhaps if he were really a "loose canon", ie a promiscuous clergyman, the show might be a bit more fun. (A better fit for the name Luther, too.)

Ha! Very good. I bet you send Pseudo Names to Private Eye.

nonsense. luther is not plot driven, it is purely atmosphere and character. ahead of its time y five years. the detective story has een told, plot doesn't advance the genre. i think you should watch it again with a different eye.

Adam Sweeting. Sorry, but your review is awful (imo). You're writing a review and you haven't grasped what Luther is about. The clue is in the name. This show is about LUTHER. It isn't really about the criminals...and you keep going on about the plot. The plot isn't supposed to be methodic because it is supposed to challenge the viewer in thinking what will happen next. Its like we are in Luthers shoes..we don't know what the next day will bring. That's why in one of the episodes Luther gets a call which wakes him and he says "what is it?!" before he picks up the phone. If you compare your character review of Alice and Luther one does wonder about your ability to objectivity whatsoever and that comes through clearly. You have written that luther is a character that needs to break rules to get results. That's not true. Luther has solved cases without breaking rules because he is very intelligent. So intelligent, that his superiors want him on the force badly. The problem is, Luthers intelligence frustrates him because he can solve crimes but can't put the criminals away. He has brilliant instincts, a ability to know what a criminal is thinking and what they want. If it was not for Luther, cases wouldn't be solved and criminals wouldn't be put the same time Luther needs to find a better way to balance his intelligence to a conformity with the regulations of the force he is in. The problems confronted with in his relationship to his wife, further his need to put the criminals away at work. Luther and Alice are both highly intelligent people who are both living on the edge of rationality. Luther being a passionate lover who hates criminals and Alice who thinks life is meaningless and love as something that doesn't work, only gets people hurt. Both have killed person(s) because of their beliefs and both are at lifes extremes. Alice comes to admire Luther on the bridge for staying loyal to his wife, the woman who has hurt him and still protects her. Alice investigates why in episode 2. Both need to meet somewhere in the middle. I enjoy Luther because its brilliant. Everything is high quality. However, I think that the strange romantic relationship between Alice and Luther is one of the main reasons I watch Luther for more. One video I really like to watch is Luther episode 1 on youtube (this one has the theme music running throughout) especially from time 2:11 onwards. It is very romantic. Ultimatly, the review here is poor and I think that not only have you missed the purpose of Luther but I also think you have intentionally attempted to demean the character of Luther undeservedley.

Faced with reading a review by the stylish Mr Sweeting and trying to work out what Mr Nerese is going on about, I know which I'd go for. Apart from which, I'd like Mr Nerese to make friends with the apostrophe.

John Nerese - having a series named after the detective-protagonist isn't exactly revolutionary, is it? (Morse, Taggart, Foyle, Frost, Dalziel & Pascoe, Columbo etc). Your commentary on Luther rather makes my point for me - he's a dangerously unstable maverick harbouring a weird infatuation with a psychotic killer. As for plot, there's loads of it but most of it's tosh. Other John, thanks for the support.

Great review Adam Sweeting, very well written it was a very good read. However, in saying that, I would like to say that I think I agree with Nerese who was (trying) to say that you could have given the character Luther more credit. The storyline has deep connotations, yes and not all can be explored straight away, especially in a short review. I assume the youtube romantic link he mentioned was this one: The rest of Nerese's comments seem a bit out of place to say the least. Great review Adam and don't take others critical comments to seriously.

Luther brilliant TV, the best thing on tv this year. Its had me on the edge of my seat at every episode. Very high quality in all aspects, so hope there is another series, its unmissable. The character Luther is just superb and actor Idris Elba has been truely successful in notching up another success, as has Ruth Wilson , coming into her own playing Alice. The relationship between these two is highly entertaining and romatic, would have loved more sences with these two. I hope for more in the next series. Oh God I sooo hope there is another. Pure genius, 5 stars.

Luther - what can I say. Tuesday nights will not be the same now that its finished :( Fantastic cast and a superb story line. Every episode was a winner. With so much rubbish on TV right now it's great to see quality BBC drama once more. I'm hoping there will be a further instalment soon? PLEASE!

I was thoroughly entertained by this entire series, and I think this review was rather premature. Based on one episode, this review doesn't reflect the whole and therefore misses the mark. It was entertaining and it certainly had you on the edge of your seat! The relationship between Alice and Luther is more than intriguing and the ending suggests that she will finally 'pay the price' for her earlier crime. Great drama and I agree with Darren and Blondie ... we need more TV like this. I don't see how there could be a follow-up though.

Hi Si. Leaving aside the Luther was good/ Luther was bad debate, you make a good point about reviewing a new series. We've had this discussion at Artsdesk Towers - if you don't review the first episode it looks as if you've missed the boat, but if you wait until episode three (say) you may get a more rounded assessment. We'd be interested to hear other opinions on this.

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