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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

TV review: Luther; Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields

Once you’ve got past its annoying ‘take me seriously’ tics, Luther is pure escapist TV drama

He’s deep, he’s troubled and he doesn’t play by the rules. It’s the generic tag-line for every maverick cop show and Luther (BBC1) is no exception. At the end of the last series, Luther’s wife had been killed by the psychopathic Alice Morgan and his career was on the skids.
He opened this one playing Russian roulette in his grimy tower block dive – Luther doesn’t go anywhere that hasn’t been pre-distressed – before going off to start his rehabilitation working for the “serious and serial” squad. “Thank God, it’s not the cold case unit,” he said, clearly relieved to have been given another outing rather than be axed by the BBC like DS Boyd in Waking the Dead.

Within minutes of Luther’s arrival at the industrial warehouse that doubled as his office, an art student with Spring-heeled Jack fantasies had begun his own piece of live performance by topping random women in front of CCTV cameras while wearing a mask, and the mayhem was up and running. Unlike the victims. Luther may be almost identical to almost every other TV cop you’ve ever seen and the storyline may belong to the Theatre of the Absurd – what the hell was Luther doing visiting Alice Morgan in her secure unit and then tossing her a message over the wall inside an apple? And how come she just happened to be passing by to pick it up? – but that’s not really the point.

Once you’ve got past its annoying “take me seriously” tics – more easily done than you might think – Luther is pure, escapist TV drama. And a very superior one. It’s not trying to enlighten you about the human condition, nor baffle you with its complexity; it exists purely as both suspense and suspension of disbelief. If this sounds condescending, it’s not intended to be. I gave up with The Shadow Line round about episode four, precisely because I had lost track of what was going on over the previous month and didn’t have the energy to find out. What Luther also has going for it is a strong and watchable cast, led by Idris Elba in the title role and well supported by Ruth Wilson, Warren Brown and Paul McGann. I don’t care if it’s nonsense: I’ll be watching till the end. It’s summer. What more do you want?

If you’re the Sri Lankan government, then you probably want Jon Snow’s Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields (Channel 4) to go away. It certainly refused to make any official comment about the documentary. Channel 4 also looked as if it rather wanted this film to go away as it buried it in a late-night slot, long after most people have gone to bed. The stated reason for this was that some of the scenes were so graphic and distressing they might upset viewers. But this was precisely the reason it should have been given primetime billing. Schedulers always seem to forget that every television has an off switch and that people can make up their own minds about what they are watching.

Much of the footage, which documented the summary executions, rape, torture and bombing – all apparently sanctioned by the Sri Lankan government – of tens of thousands of Tamils in the last days of the civil war after the UN pulled out of the country in September 2008, was shocking. Soldiers filmed laughing on mobile phones while they shot bound prisoners in the back of the head. Civilian women lying dead on the ground, having been raped and mutilated by the government troops to whom they had tried to surrender. Hospitals being targeted.

Most disturbing of all, though, was the clip of UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon being given a whistle-stop PR tour of a refugee camp by Sri Lankan government officials, and failing to talk to a single Tamil about their experiences. The survivors said that it was at that point they knew they had no human rights. To this day, Ban Ki-moon rejects his own organisation’s report that the Sri Lankan government was complicit in war crimes. How can we take the UN seriously when it talks of war crimes in Libya and its leader ignores them elsewhere? Or are war crimes in the third world not so important?

Monday night’s Terry Pratchett film about the assisted dying of a man suffering from motor neurone disease provoked plenty of discussion; I suspect the Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields will generate next to none. Ban Ki-moon and the Sri Lankan government will be delighted.
The Guardian


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