Staring – Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Indira Varma.
Series Creator and Writer – Neil Cross.
Directors – Brian Kirk, Sam Miller and Stefan Schwartz.
A DVD’s cover should encourage you to get your money out and make a purchase, but this one made me cringe so much I almost reconsidered getting it. If I had not seen an episode from season 3 of Luther (recently shown on BBC 1) then this season 1 set would have stayed where I found it on a shelf in the shop. The reason is simple: the word ‘Maverick’. Every time I see it attached to a cop show I get images of 80s action cop movies, which I love don’t get me wrong, but when its attached to a British television drama it’s a byword for over used clichés, corny acting and characters straight from the Bumper Book of Cop Stereotypes. Like I said I’m relieved I caught an episode of Luther during its 3rd season run so I was aware just what a cracking show Luther is.
Our hero is DCI John Luther (Idris Elba), the ‘maverick cop’ the box spoke of. With a mix of intelligence and violence, he’s Columbo with a bad temper. The cases he investigates are what you usually find in BBC cop dramas these days, which is to say they are all brutal murders and serial killings the kinds of which would flood London’s streets with blood (I imagine it’s how a Daily Mail reader sees the world). For the most part the show takes the same format as Columbo, we see who the killer is and the mysteries are focused on how our brilliant but flawed hero will prove they did it. This first season is comprised of 6 episodes, each with a crime of the week and continuing plots. The two main plot threads in season 1 feature the difficulties between Luther and his estranged wife (classic cops show / movie territory there), and his on-going battle of wits with a genus level sociopath played by Ruth Wilson (a kind of sexy and mischief making female Hannibal Lecter).
Really the big draw here is Idris Elba. No stranger to the big screen (Pacific Rim, Thor) or small screen (The Wire, Ultraviolet) he is a forceful presence when he hits full flow and here he starts at full flow and doesn’t stop. I’m sure you’ve heard praise for him before, particularly in relation to The Wire (All bow down before it!) but the praise isn’t unjust. An actor who can dominate a scene and grab the audience’s attention, he raises Luther to highs I can’t imagine many other actors could have if they used a crane. It’s his performance that gives the show it believability and dramatic heart making each episode and case compelling even when they appear quite silly.
The supporting cast isn’t bad at all with Ruth Wilson being a particular highlight as multiple murderess Alice who become increasingly Luther’s closest friend and council. Wilson and Elba have great chemistry and play well of on another in their twisted romance. Series creator and writer Neil Cross likes to tell dark stories that are creepy yet over the top, however his real focus is on good characterisation and dialogue (a discussion of David Bowie and detective work shows this off beautifully). Luther really raids the Bumper Book of Cop Stereotypes I mentioned earlier, but it knows it and it revels in it. This is not a real world show or thinks it is, Luther is a piece of hardboiled detective fiction with lots of murder, evil bad guys and ‘on the ragged edge’ cops.
It’s a potent stylized mix of clichés and tropes, which is given an extra boost from an epic performance by Elba. Season 2 is now on my must buy list and the show gets even better if my glimpse of season 3 was anything to go by.
4 out of 5 Nerds