Monday, 23 May 2011

Luther series 2 with Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson

Idris Elba returns as DCI John Luther. Pics: BBC
Rating ★★★½

BBC1, from Tuesday, 14 June, 9pm

Luther seems to have morphed from a crime series into a horror show as series two returns.

Dark rooms, creaking staircases, sudden jolts – the show is loaded with the kind of frights that are sprung in a Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger shocker.

Idris Elba is back at his volcanic best as the detective wrestling with his personal demons – including the murder of his wife, Zoe, at the end of the last series – as well as a demon on London's streets. A man wearing a grotesque Punch mask is stalking the capital randomly murdering lone women (the usual stock victims in slasher films).

Ruth Wilson returns as Alice Morgan
Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter has a lot to answer for – namely, the ongoing vogue for fiendish serial killers with elaborate murder rituals. Lecter has become the template for the modern bogeyman. Where serial murderers are rare, opportunistic and ordinary, in crime series and novels they are now everywhere, with high IQs and a flair for theatrical murders.

Writer Neil Cross (Spooks, The Fixer) gave Luther a brilliant mind too and so perhaps felt his hero has to battle high-achievers on the murder front. In the first series it was Alice Morgan – a convincingly oddball Ruth Wilson – and she returns here. The new killer that Luther is up against this time is another serial bogeyman, who flaunts his crimes and has a near-supernatural ability to vanish when police helicopters, dogs and officers are all around him.

So Luther is really less a police procedural than a cop chiller. It's a polished, slick production, heavy on atmosphere but light on reality.

John Luther returns to work in the newly created Serious and Serial Unit, which is headed by his former adversary, the complaints officer Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley).

Luther's soft spot for Alice the killer is a mystery
Paul McGann also returns as Mark, who had taken Luther's place in Zoe's life, before her murder. Despite their former antagonism, they have now bonded over their mutual loss.

Partners again – Luther and Ripley
Luther recruits DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown) to his team, after the rising star's career was damaged in the last series when he helped Luther.

Luther also goes to visit Alice in her high-security psychiatric unit (which brings to mind Clarice Starling visiting Lecter). The detective's desire to help her is one of the more mind-boggling threads of the story.

Kierston Wareing's new character – Caroline
A new face is that of Kierston Wareing – a very hot actor in crime series right now, having appeared in Martina Cole's The Runaway and The Shadow Line recently. She plays Caroline, whose husband Luther once had imprisoned for murder. She asks for his help to rescue her daughter from a life in porn.

In another credibility-stretching storyline, she blames Luther for the destruction of her family when her husband was put away. This would be the husband who murdered and chopped up a woman.

This two-parter is the first of two new Luther specials. Idris Elba remains a huge screen presence as he moves on from his terrific performance in The Wire, and as a moody fright fest this new series delivers, but not even Luther's super-intuition could make the characters believable.