21 June 2020 22:34
The Luminaries, BBC1, review: An alluring slow-burn with bags of potential Set in the gold rush era of 19th century New Zealand, The Luminaries is a murder mystery meets costume drama with a hint of mythology "The middle of nowhere, the middle of the night. A politician, a savage and a whore. Sounds like a riddle doesn't it?" It does indeed. This is the murder scene set up by the first episode of the BBC's latest costume drama, The Luminaries, an adaption – of sorts – by Eleanor Catton of her 2013 Man Booker-winning novel. I say "sort of", because this series is a departure from the book, which will either come as a sacrilegious surprise or a relief to anyone who has read the existential and mythological (and lengthy) story.
It's still set in 19th century New Zealand, when prospectors flooded the country looking for gold, but our focus stays firmly with sex worker Anna Wetherell (Eve Hewson), the "whore" found at the murder. We start the hour on a boat with Anna, where she meets her love interest Emery Staines (Himesh Patel). A groomed young lady with a bright, naive air about her, Anna is worlds away from the wild-eyed woman we see locked up in the flashforwards (thanks to the near-constant shifting of timeframes, the narrative can get confusing). The victim is revealed to be Crosbie Wells, a prospector married to Eva Green's ethereal yet dominating madam Lydia who takes Anna under her wing. Exactly what happened to him and why Anna was found with his body is yet to be revealed, and it's that intrigue which makes The Luminaries so alluring. The i newsletter cut through the noise Email address is invalid Email address is invalid Thank you for subscribing! Sorry, there was a problem with your subscription. This first episode felt like a prequel to a bigger story, introducing us to characters and hinting at themes of racism, sexism and greed. It's a slow-burn so far, but I have a feeling our patience will be rewarded.