TV preview: Luther | Phil Spector

Idris Elba in Luther. Picture: BBC
Idris Elba in Luther. Picture: BBC
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Ooh, look! It’s a new drama about a serial killer with a fetish for murdering women and desecrating their bodies! We haven’t had one of those for DAYS.


Tuesday, BBC1, 9pm

Phil Spector

Today*, Sky Atlantic, 9pm

And here’s a moody cop who’s dedicated to his job and sometimes breaks the rules to get justice. What an original concept!

Ah well. Luther, now back for the third series, has nevertheless won a following despite – or perhaps because of – adhering so doggedly to the current popular template for crime dramas.

It’s particularly popular in the US, where Idris Elba won a Golden Globe for his performance as the muscle-bound police detective who intimidates everyone simply by towering over them and frowning, but who has a soft spot for ladies in distress.

This time, he’s not only trying to solve the mystery of the murdered woman (after a particularly creepy opening sequence which will make more nervous types check under their beds before going to sleep) but has a case involving the death of a vile Internet troll and a flirtation with a nice, ditzy woman, who is so sweet she is almost guaranteed to be kidnapped and probably tortured by the serial killer later on.

Meanwhile Luther’s hitherto loyal sidekick (Warren Brown) is contacted in the most unprofessional manner possible by some internal investigators who point out that his boss is constantly having people murdered around him yet always survives. Well, yes: he’s the star, that’s how thrillers work.

The script is often clunky aiming for clever. “Evidence?” Luther quips to a suspect. “That’s just seasoning and I’m like Jamie Oliver, I just rummage around the cupboards and see what I can find.” (If true, this would explain his 15 Minute Meals). “What is this?” asks the hapless crim, “Nazi Russia?”

And Elba is too big, in all senses, for the role: you can see him straining for the movie screen. You wonder if he ever contrasts this stuff with the show that made his name, The Wire, whose unblinking realism makes all of this seem silly.

On the plus side, Lucian Masamati is heart-rending in a small role as a grieving father and David O’Hara is very menacing as Luther’s new antagonist.

Another woman is dead in HBO’s latest you-are-really-spoiling-us TV movie (which unlike their excellent Behind The Candelabra, is actually showing on TV here), Phil 
Spector. Written and directed by David Mamet and starring Al Pacino in an extraordinary wig, telling the story of the murder trial of the famed Wall of Sound producer, musical genius and notorious woman-bully, you really shouldn’t need any more information to want to watch this if you’re able to. But just the same, I’ll tell you it’s really good. Watching Helen Mirren, playing a powerful lawyer afflicted with a snottery cold, walking through the astonishing memorabilia in room after room of Spector’s house, while he name-drops and philosophises in a long defensive monologue, is a masterclass in acting and reacting. And there’s the incidental pleasure of seeing dear old Martin Jarvis pop up too. A treat.

*This article was originally published in last Saturday’s Scotsman Magazine