heads up – spoilers
Since it began in 2010 each series of Luther has contained fewer and fewer episodes. Next up, says its star Idris Elba, the plan is to take the small screen’s most grizzled detective in to a movie of his own.
This would suit Elba’s status as a big screen player, but I’m not sure it’s doing Luther the series many favours. The new run began with John Luther in hibernation, holed up in a bothy on a cliff top having taken a self-enforced ‘leave of absence,’ but sensibly it soon brought him back to the benighted, rain-sodden London that has always been his natural habitat. Things bowled along at a breakneck pace. Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), the femme fatale who has been both Luther’s nemesis and muse, had apparently been killed in Antwerp. Luther was roused to action like an angry elephant. In the meantime a psychopath had embarked on a killing spree. Luther-substitute Theo Bloom (Darren Boyd) was on the case. Except that in the now slightly predictable ‘they’ll never see this one coming’ way Bloom was summarily blown up himself – ka-bloom – marking a sad ending for what had been shaping up in to an excellent performance from Boyd.
Half an hour in his body was just one of many, some mutilated, some cannibalized, all of them shown with the series’ usual stomach-churning detail. Very quickly Luther was in touching distance of the killer, a disturbed computer nerd played so brilliantly by John Heffernan that I predict he will now struggle for work on account of being too scary to have in an audition room.
It got the heart pumping, but it didn’t stir the mind. One of the great advances in series television in recent years has been that complex stories can be told at their own pace. In a movie you’ve got to get on with it. This movie-light Luther was action-packed, but with only two hours’ screentime it lost something too. Luther has become renowned for nail-gnawing, palm-gouging suspense. No one who saw the scene in the last series in which a murderer emerged from under his sleeping victim’s bed, for example, will ever sleep well again without poking a broom handle under the valence. This suspense has always relied on some shots and scenes running just a little too long for comfort. It’s the waiting for the inevitable that’s unbearable.
Although last night’s episode pulled it off once again in its opening sequence, in which a man coming home to see his wife turned out not to be that man at all, thereafter it barely paused for breath. That’s all well and good in an action movie, and Elba’s frame-filling physical presence can play that role, but he’s just as good doing the psychological stuff, and some slower scenes, a little mood music, would have been welcome. A genuinely disturbing thriller needs a little time to simmer.
In the rush to become a movie there were times when it also lapsed in to movie cliché – the escape and chase down the ventilation shaft; the staring at the bad guy you’re unable to reach on the other side of the train tracks – which again was surprising in a series that at other times has been reliably non-conformist in its imagery and plotting. I hope that episode two slows things down. When you have a character as good as John Luther, and an actor playing him who basically is that man, it would be nice to spend a little more time in his company.