Saturday, 19 December 2015


This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 19th December 2015.

Luther: Tuesday, BBC One

Love You To Death: A Year of Domestic Violence: Wednesday, BBC Two

Paul Whitelaw

There was a moment in the latest episode of Luther so perfect in its knowing heavy-handedness, I suspect that writer Neil Cross has been waiting to use it ever since he created this uniquely ludicrous series.

As we reconvened with TV's most dysfunctional maverick cop, he was living in a remote cottage on a much-needed leave of absence. The location of his hideaway? On the edge of a precipitous cliff. That's right, he's literally living on the edge. In case you didn't pick up on this hilariously blatant visual metaphor, Cross even had a character point it out. That one moment encapsulated the tongue-in-cheek absurdity of this bombastic thriller.

After being told that Alice, his psychotic paramour, wasn't dead after all, Luther (Idris Elba) returned to London to find out the truth. This involved a series of, even by his standards, insanely reckless set-pieces. Only Luther would breeze into a pub full of armed criminals and, while staring down the barrel of a gun, defuse the situation with insouciant amusement rather than chair-tossing aggression. King of the barely calculated risk, he makes Jack Bauer look like an over-cautious pen-pusher.

Later he barged into a building rigged with explosives and emerged, via an air duct, without a scratch. Luther, played by Elba with a fascinatingly unfathomable, charismatic eccentricity/wooden sincerity (possibly both), is basically an indestructible superhero living in a heightened universe of grotesque, violent fantasy. The back-in-business scene of him putting on his familiar grey overcoat was the “Hell yeah!” equivalent of Tony Stark climbing into his Iron Man costume.

Typically, his latest nemesis is no mere murderer. No, he's a grandiloquent serial killer with a penchant for cannibal erotica. I wouldn't expect anything less.

Some have argued that Luther wallows irresponsibly in OTT violence, but surely that's the point? We're not supposed to take it seriously. Cross is fully aware of all the cop show tropes and clich├ęs, hence why he has such fun with them. It's why Luther is far more entertaining than most UK detective dramas. It is, like the man himself, a brazenly confident, self-amused barnstormer.

Sadly, thanks to Elba's rising international profile, it's only back for two episodes this time. I hope he always finds time in his schedule to return to this preposterous role.

Mindless escapism is all very well, but we should never ignore the reality of unflinching documentaries such as Love You To Death: A Year of Domestic Violence. A sad, humane, compassionate film, it shed light on the shocking issue of fatal violence against women.

In 2013 alone, 86 women were murdered either by their partner or ex-partner. The programme honoured them all by listing their names and the circumstances of their deaths. Its point was clear: these were human beings, not mere newspaper headlines.

Some of the women received more attention via emotional testimonies from their friends and families. These accounts were necessarily blunt and upsetting. Shying away from the violent details of such crimes would rob them of their awful truth.

A heavy sense of tragic inevitability permeated each of these stories. It was a sobering litany of oppressive, violent, mentally ill men terrorising women behind closed doors. Meanwhile, their loved ones were left behind to grieve and pick up the pieces.

Without doubt one of the most important pieces of television I've seen in some time.

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