Luther episode 1 review

Idris Elba takes centre stage in the BBC's latest drama series, Luther. So how did episode one measure up?

Luther

There are SPOILERS ahead!

BBC One’s new psychological detective drama, Luther, hit our screens tonight and the show has a few strings to its bow that make it stand out from the glut of similar genre shows out there.

Firstly, it stars Idris Elba in the title role, fresh from US crime drama The Wire and one of this country’s fastest rising stars. He’s made a bit of a name for himself across the pond playing a tough Baltimore gangster, is soon to be seen on the big screen in the Kenneth Branagh-directed Thor and also appears incomic book-based movie, The Losers.

It can really be considered something that the good old BBC managed to persuade him to turn his back on all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for a few months and return to his British roots.

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And if that wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, you may be intrigued to hear that it has been written by Neil Cross, the lead writer on series two of Spooks. He has a dark side to him, Neil, and Luther, for all intents and purposes serves as a vehicle for him to let that darkness into the world.

The first episode starts as it means to go on, with a frantic chase through a disused warehouse, with a sweating, panicking man stumbling from floor to floor, with Luther menacingly walking slowly behind him in true Michael Myers style.

Eventually, our desperate man in a suit has nowhere to go and is soon precariously hanging by his fingers over a ledge whilst Luther looms ominously above him, demanding to know where he has hidden a kidnapped child.

Finally drawing a confession from him, the twist here is, instead of rescuing him from his perilous situation, Luther lets him dangle for a while until he loses his grip and falls to his death. Nice. Told you the scriptwriter had a dark side.

From there we are taken to a murder scene inside a house. A tearful twenty-something woman, caked in blood and generally looking the worse for wear has just called 999. Her father, mother, and even the family dog have all been brutally shot.

You presume she has been attacked as well but, like all good detective stories, there is a twist. Well, there has to be really, doesn’t there?

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You see, watching Luther you can see it is a work of genius, but it is a cliché-ridden work of genius. You can second-guess the plot quite easily, but that doesn’t mean the ride is any less enjoyable.

We find that Luther himself has just come back to the police force after suffering a nervous breakdown of sorts. Exactly what has happened isn’t clear to begin with, but as the episode carries on, we find that he is a man who struggles to control his temper and is responsible for putting a man into a coma.

Charges cannot be pressed due to lack of evidence, and so, British justice being the wonderful thing that it is, he is give his old job back and let loose on a bloody murder scene as his first case.

As I’ve said above, there is more to this murder than meets the eye, and it is no surprise to find that the broken girl crying on the phone to the police is actually the person responsible for the crime.

Played by Ruth Wilson, we find out that Alice Morgan was a child prodigy, who attended Oxford University when she was only 13 (and, as she tells Luther gleefully in the interview room, also the same age that she lost her virginity to one of her fellow students).

However, as bright a spark as she was, she holds her parents responsible for her lost childhood, and decides to exact revenge by killing them in cold blood. Being an intellectual mastermind, she is careful to hide any evidence against her, and whilst Luther quickly deducts that she is responsible for the crime, he is powerless to stop her leaving police custody.

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As it turns out, Luther is powerless to stop a lot of things happening in his life, and this is never more obvious than when he attempts to reconcile with his estranged wife.

Arranging to meet up to talk, she breaks the news that she has found a new lover and yes, the sex is pretty good, thanks for asking. Devastated and maddened upon hearing the news, he proceeds to do what any heartbroken detective with a temper would do and demolishes her bedroom door by kicking and punching it repeatedly. This doesn’t go down too well, and soon he is drowning his sorrows in the nearest pub.

The next day he decides to turn his life around and solve the case he has been assigned to, and he confronts the murderess face to face, accusing her of killing her parents for the attention it would bring to her, an accusation that only served to anger her even more and unwittingly makes Luther public enemy number one in her eyes.

She sets out for revenge, and threatens Luther’s wife with the same treatment as she dealt to her parents.

Upon finding this out, he acts upon a hunch that she hid the gun in her family dog’s now cremated body, and breaks into her apartment. This hunch turns out to be right, and he finds parts of the murder weapon in the urn of ash that was given to her by the mortuary.

It turns out she planted this herself, almost as a test for Luther to find. The episode ends as they confront each other on a bridge, with Luther throwing the urn into the Thames and both of them reaching an uneasy stalemate.

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As the credits come up, we see her in a hospital ward, visiting the victim Luther put into a coma before he was suspended. There is no doubt in our mind that this isn’t the last we’ll hear from her, and with another five instalments yet to come in the series, you know that that is a fairly safe assumption to make.

As first episodes go, this really does tick all the right boxes and is a perfect introduction to what is yet to come.

As a character, Luther is both complex and interesting, and Idris as an actor is outstanding. There are not many actors about who can pull off such a high tension role as this.

The script is well written and paced, and all of the supporting cast perform a more than commendable job of bringing Luther’s world alive. (Ruth Wilson, in particular, delivers a particularly memorable performance as the vampy villainess and the perfect foil for the angry, troubled genius that is Luther.)

The scene has been set, and if the rest of the series continues in the same tense, excellent tempo, then we are in for a treat.