‘Luther’: Brilliant New Series with Idris Elba of ‘The Wire’

In ‘The Wire’, Idris Elba shone as ‘Stringer’ Bell, a drug ring’s #2 who looked like a young executive, took business classes but who’d ordered the wrong man’s killing.

Elba’s 2010 BBC One series, ‘Luther’, proves his performance in ‘The Wire’ is no fluke. Here he plays John Luther, a disheveled, harried Met detective. And, that’s all I’m going to say about the plot except that the cover headline and the notes on the back of the DVD box should be ignored. In fact almost everything written about this series is rubbish – except that it’s excellent television.

You’ve got to watch this series with as few pre-conceptions as possible. Its six episodes are best viewed over two or three nights, there is so much misdirection. The middle two episodes seem to signal the series will settle into a predictable – but interesting – rut. Wrong!

Similarly, one expects the usual perfunctory documentary on the development and filming of ‘Luther’. Surprise! It’s is stuffed with intelligent thoughts, beautifully – ingeniously – framed scenes and a ‘wow’ finish.

‘Luther’ places Elba among actors who capture the camera as readily as he does. Ruth Wilson, his protagonist, and Indira Varma, his ex-wife Zoe, contrast in every way. The tension in the few moments they share the screen seems to shake the frames.

John Luther has his own Inspector Javert in Dermot Crowley. The fine character actor begins the series as a stick figure but by episode 6 has emerged in three dimensions. And, the well-traveled Paul McGann, Zoe’s new lover, is the moral and often emotional center of the series.

‘What now?!’ we hear John Luther cry as the credits roll in the final episode. I can’t imagine a better question on which to end ‘Luther’s’ absorbing first season.


Hat tip: I first read about this series in a column by The Boston Globe’s fine Alex Beam.