TV review: Luther up to his Elba in glossy gore but life under the Taliban is truly terrifying
The week’s most shocking programme told the true story of the girls in Pakistan being shot for going to school
Idris Elba returns to our TV screens as the eponymous Luther. Photograph: Steven Neaves.
For the new run of Luther (BBC One, Tuesday) the director, Sam Miller, has taken several screen genres, put them in a blender and . . . no, wait . . . it’s hard even to type the word without remembering one of the scenes in this week’s episode.
A suspect in one of the murder cases, who killed for the right reason, according to maverick cop Luther (Idris Elba), gets a tip-off that the police want to fingerprint him. So he goes to the kitchen, switches on the Kenwood, rolls up his sleeves and, well, let’s just say his missus will have a heck of a time getting all that blood and those bits of cuticle off the ceiling.
And that was one of the less horror-inducing scenes in this police drama, which was determined to be – and succeeded in being – quite terrifying. Who isn’t scared at the thought, and the sight, of a murderer sliding out from under the bed?
Luther has the usual character checklist – dead wife, ace crime-solving skills, trouble with authority, woman-magnetism – and he stormed back on screen in action-hero mode.
The opening credits rolled over a rainy night scene in a gritty industrial estate where a phalanx of twitchy, armed cops are pointing their weapons at the door of a warehouse. Then it opens and a tall figure in silhouette, his hand on the collar of the baddie like an old-school copper, walks from the now flaming building, delivers the criminal to his stunned boss, and swaggers away, his tweed coat flapping behind him as the soundtrack swells.
The fright-night horror-movie stuff comes with the serial killer hiding in the attic of the cool home of the attractive couple. He lures the man up and, soon after, his bloody, dead head smashes through the ceiling of the bedroom below.
His wife does what every soon-to-be-dead woman does in corny horror movies: she hides in the wardrobe. So, of course, the killer finds her right about the time the viewer is ready to have a tension-induced heart attack.
Luther is good at dropping in moments of heightened suspense just as you’re starting to think the script is packed with so many cinematic clichés you might just laugh. That’s if you weren’t so scared.
The top cop isn’t just attempting to catch two murderer: the main case involves a twisted fetishist killing women (of course) in a horrific echo of an unsolved case from the 1980s, and the side case concerns a man who killed an internet troll.
He’s also fighting the higher ups. Someone suspects Luther is really a bad guy, meting out justice his own way, so there’s an internal investigation unit on to him.
It’s typical of the style-over-sense approach in this cinematic, sharp-looking drama that the investigation unit’s office is in a near-derelict storefront factory on a grimy high street rather than in a nice office building with magnolia walls and hairy carpet tiling. It’s best not to think too hard about anything in Luther – even its downright viciousness. Nothing bears too much scrutiny.
Luther is all show, clever camera angles and “gotcha” frights. Unlike The Returned (Channel 4, Sunday), the French supernatural thriller set in an Alpine village that quietly goes about creating a huge, terrifying puzzle.