Luther is as theatrically gritty as ever

Outrageous and flamboyant murders? Check. Creepy clown masks? Check. Gruff one-liners? Check.

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Luther has become burdened by its own success. The BBC’s theatrically gritty portrait of a rain-slicked London and its criminal underworld, always put to rights by down-to-earth man’s man DCI Luther, catapulted the career of Idris Elba and gave a thoroughly deserved boost to Ruth Wilson for her turn as charismatic, unpredictable killer, Alice.

It’s nearly a decade since the show started and there have been a number of sidekicks for Luther, all manner of absurd murder plots, and several major character deaths, each less impactful than the last. Perhaps it’s been hard to pin down Elba and Wilson at the same time – Luther only makes it to air every few years (it’s four since the last season), often doing so without Alice, an enormous part of the show’s dynamism.

What a relief, then, to see her return in the new series – supposedly from the dead. (Alice was ostensibly killed off, but as fans of murder mysteries and Game of Thrones know, if a character dies off screen, they almost certainly didn’t die at all.) Luther’s new DS is played by Wunmi Mosaku, who has racked up a number of British TV roles as a concerned but assertive “supervising” figure in Kiri, The End of The Fucking World, and Black Mirror. Here she is given the space to do something different – she seems younger than ever, clever, and both vulnerable and brave.

Luther is back to his old ways, gruffly delivering lines such as “Tell the Spice Girls to back off” in his first five minutes on screen. The murders are still outrageous and flamboyant: episode one alone contains a body perforated with nails, a creepy sexual therapist and a take on Agatha Christie’s 4.50 From Paddington using two east London night buses. Who knew our capital city teemed with so many violent sexual deviants wearing clown masks? 

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 04 January 2019 issue of the New Statesman, 2019: The big questions