Friday, July 29, 2011

Review: Luther Season One DVD

Luther Series One DVD (BBC, 2010)
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Luther is one of those television shows that divides people, viewers and critics alike. To say the psychological crime drama received a mixed response when its first season, created and written by Wellington-based novelist and screenwriter Neil Cross, debuted in the UK last year, doesn’t do justice to the divergent viewpoints it incited. Some hailed Luther as one of the very best things on TV in years. Others wrote it off as violent, over-the-top nonsense. One prominent UK critic even publicly changed his mind mid-season, backtracking on an earlier negative review – almost unheard of. The show received awards acclaim – including Golden Globe and Emmy Nominations for Best Actor for lead Idris Elba (who plays John Luther) and a prestigious TV writing award for Cross – but first season ratings were so-so.

Given all the above, it was with more than mild curiosity that I recently popped the first disc into my DVD player, and settled in to watch Cross’s creation, and make up my own mind. As the title credits rolled, I wondered, would I love it, or hate it? Or fall somewhere in between.

Luther (Elba, of The Wire fame) is a near-genius detective with an explosive personality. He gets inside the heads of the worst criminals, but his work weighs heavy on him, and his personal life has fractured. In the first episode, Luther returns from extended leave (months earlier a child killer he was pursuing ‘fell’ and is now in a coma) to investigate a brutal killing, a case that introduces him to Alice (Ruth Morgan), a young woman with much going on beneath her cold exterior. His planned reconciliation with estranged wife Zoe flops – she’s met someone else – and he throws himself even more into work, the very thing that’s undone his equilibrium in the past.

Elba is magnetic as Luther, bringing a gravitas to the role that transfixes even when things veer towards theatrical. Whether he was throwing things through windows or sitting quietly alone, I was mesmerised by his portrayal of a troubled man treading a tightrope between intelligence and insanity. But it’s not a one-man show; there are strong performances across the board, from Morgan’s Alice, to Indira Varma as Zoe, Saskia Reeves as Luther’s boss, and Paul McGann as Zoe’s new lover. Each brings emotion and authenticity to the roles, none are caricatures.

Viewers will quickly notice Luther ‘looks’ different to other British TV. It is shot beautifully, giving it a more cinematic than ultra-real ‘police procedural’ look and feel. Each of the six episodes of the first season is exciting in itself, while at the same time ongoing issues bubble away in the background, exploding by the finale, where Luther is accused of a brutal murder and must enlist some unlikely allies to help catch the real killer before his colleagues – who think he’s finally gone off the deep end – catch him.

Overall, I absolutely loved Luther. Was it over-the-top, less than realistic, as some said? Yes. Did it verge on theatrical? Yes. But damn it is good. Very, very good. For me, one of the best TV shows I’ve watched in years. I accept it’s the type of show that not everyone will enjoy – it will ‘click’ or resonate with some, and not others. I’m just glad it works for me, because now I can really look forward to season two, which recently screened in Britain to widespread acclaim, and much higher ratings.


This article was published in the 29 July 2011 issue of NZLawyer, and is republished here with permission.


Have you watched Luther? What do you think of the TV show? Did you like it, or not? Thoughts welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Addicted to Luther. We Have box set 1@2 are their any more?