Luther 4, BBC1, with Idris Elba

Luther series 4, Idris Elba

On the edge: DCI John Luther (Idris Elba)

An abominable serial killer is hunted by Luther, who’s still haunted by Alice

★★★ BBC1, day and time to be announced

LUTHER IS BACK, and the new series is as nutty and nasty as ever.

A drama about a genius detective who is daft enough to fall for a genius female psychopath is always going to be a believability-stretcher, but Luther has nevertheless gained a cult-like status. Series one even got 94 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes, today’s final word in critical assessment.

Idris Elba is undoubtedly the key ingredient to its attraction. The actor has enough charisma and conviction to sweep fans along and make the bonkers stories seem almost rational. The other standout feature is the distinctively creepy London atmosphere it creates.

But Neil Cross‘s series is gratuitously nasty. We have a terrified woman being slashed by a lunatic within the first few minutes of this two-parter’s opening episode. Naked blood-spattered corpses, a ‘Bedlamite’ killer who is a devotee of ‘cannibal erotica’ and eats body parts, in addition to a character nailed to a table combine to push the series to the limits of what is acceptable on BBC1.

Rose Leslie and Darren Boyd

Anyway, we find Luther on leave of absence as the action begins, living in a rundown cottage virtually on top of the White Cliffs of Dover. Detectives Emma Lane and Theo Bloom, played by Darren Boyd (Fortitude) and Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones), visit him with news of Alice Morgan’s death after she has some escapades in Berlin, Madrid and Antwerp.

Luther, BBC1, DCI Theo Bloom (DARREN BOYD), DS Emma Lane (ROSE LESLIE) - (C) BBC

This case stinks: DCI Theo Bloom (Darrren Boyd) and DS Emma Lane (Rose Leslie)

We last saw fiendishly illusive killer Alice – the series’ other major-league presence in Ruth Wilson – at the end of series three, when Luther had needed her help in clearing himself of a murder charge. The big tease is, is she really dead? Luther can’t believe anyone could have got the better of her, and it would certainly set the story alight if she returns. [Read more…]

Luther series 3, BBC1, with Idris Elba, Warren Brown, Sienna Guillory PREVIEW

Idris Elba as John Luther in the third series of BBC1's Luther
He’s a smasher – Idris Elba as DCI John Luther. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½

BBC1: starts Tuesday, 2 July, 9pm 

Story: Luther is loaded up with two big murder cases – one for a fetishist who is killing women, and the other involving the death of a malicious internet tormentor – while inside the police force itself, an operation is underway to nail the detective for past transgressions.

THE GOTHIC COP is back. John Luther, gloomy, dealing with grotesque cases that often have supernatural echoes, is giving it large once again – dangling suspects over balconies, having punch-ups with other detectives and messing with the minds of the deranged.

Idris Elba in BBC1's Luther, series 3
Out on his own – Luther is targeted

In what could the series’ last outing before creator Neil Cross transfers the character to the big screen,
Luther has a lot on his plate. He’s after a creepy fetishistic killer of women who seems to be emulating 1980s murderer the Shoreditch Creeper, a case that was never solved.

This being Luther, the killer has to have a wacky MO, so the Creeper would pleasure himself while sucking his victims’ toes. The contemporary copycat seems to be dressing up his victims like someone from his past.

DSU George Stark is gunning for Luther

DSU George Stark (DAVID O'HARA) in BBC1's Luther
Stark choice – David O’Hara as Luther’s enemy

The stories are always totally unbelievable in Luther, but what sells it are Idris Elba as the force-of-nature, intuitive cop – once again, he literally towers over everyone here – along with the show’s chilling atmosphere. In this brooding opener, the gore takes second place to some stomach-tightening set-piece moments.

What lifts this third series above the others, however, are two new plot developments. The first is the arrival of David O’Hara as DSU George Stark. The Scottish actor has a presence and raw menace to make him a formidable foe for our anti-hero, and his character is out to see Luther go down for killings he is suspected of carrying out during past investigations.

O’Hara, along with DCI Erin Gray (Nikki Amuka-Bird), intimidates Luther’s deputy and best friend, Ripley, into spying on John. Once again, implausibility reigns and Ripley seems to speedily fall in line.

Love is in the air with the arrival of Sienna Guillory

DCI John Luther (IDRIS ELBA), Mary Day (SIENNA GUILLORY) in BBC1's Luther
Luther dates Mary in a, er, fast food cafe

The plan involves loading another murder case onto Luther – that of a malicious internet tormentor.

Again, the plot is stretched beyond plausibility as Stark and Gray know who the murderer is, but for some reason think Luther will let him go, and then they can arrest the detective.

Yet the drama is still nicely poised for an almighty showdown between Luther and Stark. As Stark says, ‘He doesn’t know it, but his good fortune ran out the day I heard his name.’

The other juicy storyline is another new character that Luther runs into, literally, in his car. This is Mary Day, played by Sienna Guillory. Love is in the air immediately, and the detective, whose wife Zoe was murdered in the first series, seems about to relieve some of his gloomy work obsessiveness with a bit of romance.

Watch out for Alice…

Alice Morgan (RUTH WILSON) in BBC1's Luther
Lurking – Alice Morgan

But with Stark after him, and the impending return of the show’s favourite pantomime genius psychopath, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), the woman with whom Luther has a – wouldn’t you know it – reality-defying bond, the course of true love is unlikely to run smoothly.

Luther is a frustrating series. It gets so much right – terrific performers, intriguing conflicts and it’s dripping with atmosphere.

But it’s not just the series’ killers who are off their rockers. The whole drama could do with an occasional reality check.

Cast: Idris Elba DCI John Luther, Warren Brown DS Justin Ripley, Sienna Guillory Mary Day, David O’Hara DSU George Stark, Nikki Amuka-Bird DCI Erin Gray, Dermot Crowley DSU Martin Schenk, Michael Smiley Benny Deadhead

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Luther DVD series 1 & 2

DVD: ★★★½  Extras: ★★★

Cast: DCI Idris Elba John Luther, Ruth Wilson Alice Morgan, Indira Varma Zoe Luther, Warren Brown DS Justin Ripley, Steven Mackintosh DCI Rian Reed, Saskia Reeves Det Supt Rose Teller, Paul McGann Mark North

When the Beeb went to novelist Neil Cross to commission a new police drama they apparently asked for an ‘iconic character’, like ITV’s Morse. Cross dreamed up a detective who symbolised the maverick as out-of-control avenger in Luther.

Detective chief inspector John Luther is a marauding, passionate and at times furious cop with a volcanic temper. He dominates investigations, occasionally terrifies suspects’ wives and fills the screen with his intensity. Fortunately, Idris Elba was on hand to play him, and this year picked a deserved Crime Writers’ Association Dagger for his performance.

Extreme storytelling
He is almost consumed by his horror at the psychos and mad folk he confronts – and there are some pretty crazed baddies in the two series here. During the first series he is also in the torment of being separated from his wife, Zoe, who has moved onto someone less obsessive and grim in Mark North.

While the series cannot be faulted for its bold storytelling, it is not remotely believable, and as the DVD extra here, Luther – The World of a True Maverick, makes clear, it is not meant to be realistic. As Ruth Wilson says,  this is ‘not realism. The characters are theatrical. It’s very extreme.’

Alice the psycho ally
So Luther is a law breaker and near genius whose hunches are spot on and who thinks nothing of planting evidence to flush out an evil doer. His chief ally is eerie Alice the psychopath, and Ruth Wilson even wonders if her character is real, or part of Luther’s imagination.

Neil Cross created a ‘how-catch-’em’ rather than a whodunit, and in Luther he wanted to fuse the eccentric brilliance of Sherlock Holmes with the ‘moral danger’ of Philip Marlowe. All of the characters operate in their own heightened world.

Killer in a punch mask
This boxset follows Luther’s progression from his return from a breakdown and the separation with Zoe, through to her murder and into the second series, which veers into horror territory in episodes such as the series opener in which Luther hunts a crazed killer in a punch mask, which is full of creaking staircases, creaking doors and nasty murders.

Luther is a long way from Morse, and could never have the mainstream appeal of John Thaw’s hero. He’s unhinged, unbelievable, but – in Idris Elba’s hands – Luther is an indelible presence.

•  The Luther boxset was supplied by BBCShop.com

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Luther series 2 with Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson

Idris Elba returns as DCI John Luther. Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★½

BBC1, from Tuesday, 14 June, 9pm

Luther seems to have morphed from a crime series into a horror show as series two returns.

Dark rooms, creaking staircases, sudden jolts – the show is loaded with the kind of frights that are sprung in a Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger shocker.

Idris Elba is back at his volcanic best as the detective wrestling with his personal demons – including the murder of his wife, Zoe, at the end of the last series – as well as a demon on London’s streets. A man wearing a grotesque Punch mask is stalking the capital randomly murdering lone women (the usual stock victims in slasher films).

Ruth Wilson returns as Alice Morgan
Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter has a lot to answer for – namely, the ongoing vogue for fiendish serial killers with elaborate murder rituals. Lecter has become the template for the modern bogeyman. Where serial murderers are rare, opportunistic and ordinary, in crime series and novels they are now everywhere, with high IQs and a flair for theatrical murders.

Writer Neil Cross (Spooks, The Fixer) gave Luther a brilliant mind too and so perhaps felt his hero has to battle high-achievers on the murder front. In the first series it was Alice Morgan – a convincingly oddball Ruth Wilson – and she returns here. The new killer that Luther is up against this time is another serial bogeyman, who flaunts his crimes and has a near-supernatural ability to vanish when police helicopters, dogs and officers are all around him.

So Luther is really less a police procedural than a cop chiller. It’s a polished, slick production, heavy on atmosphere but light on reality.

John Luther returns to work in the newly created Serious and Serial Unit, which is headed by his former adversary, the complaints officer Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley).

Luther’s soft spot for Alice the killer is a mystery
Paul McGann also returns as Mark, who had taken Luther’s place in Zoe’s life, before her murder. Despite their former antagonism, they have now bonded over their mutual loss.

Partners again – Luther and Ripley

Luther recruits DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) to his team, after the rising star’s career was damaged in the last series when he helped Luther.

Luther also goes to visit Alice in her high-security psychiatric unit (which brings to mind Clarice Starling visiting Lecter). The detective’s desire to help her is one of the more mind-boggling threads of the story.

Kierston Wareing’s new character – Caroline
A new face is that of Kierston Wareing – a very hot actor in crime series right now, having appeared in Martina Cole’s The Runaway and The Shadow Line recently. She plays Caroline, whose husband Luther once had imprisoned for murder. She asks for his help to rescue her daughter from a life in porn.

In another credibility-stretching storyline, she blames Luther for the destruction of her family when her husband was put away. This would be the husband who murdered and chopped up a woman.

This two-parter is the first of two new Luther specials. Idris Elba remains a huge screen presence as he moves on from his terrific performance in The Wire, and as a moody fright fest this new series delivers, but not even Luther’s super-intuition could make the characters believable.

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