I must concede, I was late-comer in the drove of revellers who gathered on social networks on Tuesday evenings, they would dance around my timeline, two stepping a stream of ‘Why Luther’ ‘Don’t Luther’, one over-emotional online social reveller quipped; ‘No LUTHER...I HATE YOU...AND I LOVE YOU...SO CONFLICTED!!!’ I never really quite understood why ...
Quite recently I decided to join this proverbial wagon, after all I love crime thrillers, as a fan of the genre I remember being heavily engrossed as a youngster in John Grisham novels and gothic comic flicks about capped crusaders dishing out ‘my kind of justice’. I’ve always found narratives that delve into the perversion of law by those seemingly charge with upholding going against those hell bent on opposing it very fascinating, I guess when one really explores them you’re posed with this conceptual, alternative and often more proficient way of approaching law and order. I guess the fascination is all so common because television and film in the past decade has been overwhelmed with variations of crusaders and conflicted do-gooders dishing out what I can only again call ‘my kind of justice’. ‘Dexter’ a popular series by Showtime conveys such narrative, a man consumed with the need to killing channelling his demons towards more deserving victims; criminals who have side stepped the clumsy clutches of the law. If only there was a Dexter in Florida in this moment in time....now wouldn’t that be something. Luther is a series that not only ticks this box, it does so ever so refreshingly, I was sceptical prior to watching Luther that the BBC series would fall short, the opening scenes of Luther alone suggested scepticism were unjust, by the end of the first season I was a ‘believer’.
Now what makes Luther interesting is not only the concept; maverick Black law enforcer hell bent on taking three steps backwards before making one gigantic leap to clear his obstacles, the production value and writing is also superb, Neil Cross the man that was also behind another BBC series ‘Spooks’ has a way of presenting shocking crime scenes with an air of fairy tale innocence, the big bad wolf is the latest perpetrator and the pretty little white girls are...well pretty little white women. This brief visitation to early childhood scary stories mixed with very modern and very real crimes leaves you in an eerie state of disillusion, you watch on as recognisable London settings are transformed into a playground of doom and tragedy, a vision you realise isn’t as strange and surreal as you might like to think. The constant shift in plot is compelling, all the main characters matter and some come back to haunt the narrative, this makes Luther a unique viewing and is one of the reasons why many herald it as ‘dark, daft and dazzling’, the Heritage after predicting it would be a flop recanted, going on to say it was a ‘slightly sillier Silence of the Lambs’, anyone who has seen the Jonathan Demme’s film will know how huge of a compliment this is.
Art imitates life and in a more digital age life is beginning to replicate art, we are being sucked into this cyclical whirlwind where what we see on popular media educates the masses on how this shapes how we judge and interact with one another. Luther is a great show because it is a popular and successful BBC series that has a Black man sitting atop it’s mantle, Idris Elba rose to prominence after playing ‘Stinger Bell’ in the infamous HBO crime drama ‘The Wire’, since then he has gone on to star in many more shows and films before returning to London to head the cast in this eponymous series. The image of Luther alone is a triumph, unlike his predecessor ‘Mickey Bricks’ played by Adrian Lester he wasn’t a Black man previously incarcerated, a Black man who makes a living from being a con artist and evading the clumsy clutch of the law (which is becoming increasingly thematic I might add) Luther, the character is a distinguished man of the law, someone who shows almost near abnormal strength and intelligence when it comes to outsmarting the sadistic men he crosses path with. His character explores spaces and ideas we’re not use to associating with Black men, he is charge with heading a predominantly white crime unit, he is an ex husband who is presented as a constant emotional obstacle to his white ex wife’s pursuit of a more normal stable passionless relationship with a new man, he also has a paternal relationship with a sexually troubled white girl – ultimately cohabiting with her acting as a guardian and protector, these are all unfamiliar territory for Black men – well so we are told. Luther allows us to engage in discussions about how Black men are perceived in society and to really analyse this theory of their ever evolving roles in society in direct collision and contradiction to a very stagnate reality. A friend of mine succinctly summarised his opinion of Luther in his Facebook status;
‘Over the last week I finally decided to see what all this Luther stuff was about and watched the first two series - in conclusion, Luther saves white women, gets slapped by white men, gets bad people like an unstable donkey. Vaguely interesting TV. I'm hooked.’
This statement invited an interesting discussion on the conceptual and cultural (or lack of) themes around Luther we discussed whether or not Luther the character was written as a white man or a Black man, did Idris Elba benefit from the process of colour-blind casting. If the character of Luther indeed was written for a white man then how valid can any claim we have to the moral victory of the character be, equally are Black men exonerated from being synonymously condemned by an ills Luther might commit in the show, it will be futile to resist the notion that with millions of impressionable British viewers watching, whatever the character of Luther does on screen will have a level of influence on how Black men are perceived.
What we can take from Luther is that it allows us to discuss, we explore the content and context suitably, I extol the series and all those involved in creating a brilliant product, however unfinished or unfurnished Luther’s character development might be, we can commend their commitment to the genre, we watch on us we hope the writers can fill us in and address the cultural blanks, until then continue to enjoy Elba’s brilliant performance, he really is in his element when he plays Luther and his portrayal is the biggest triumph here and an inspiration to any London based actor. He shows immense talent has he manages to evolve this Luther character into this singular fusion of Jekyll and Hyde and we watch on nervously just like the other characters around him, never quite sure what Luther we’re going to get.
Whether Luther was written to be white, Black or other a friend of mine provided a more interesting perspective, he said and I loosely quote; ‘Luther is a Londoner first...everything else falls secondary’.
If you don’t already watch the series, I suggest you book a day off and get up to speed.
Luther can be seen online if you look hard enough, also on LoveFilm and I think it's on Netflix.