Analysis of a Scene XXXVI: Cooking with George Cornelius in “Luther”

How not to make friends with a mobster Patrick Malahide as George Cornelius in "Luther"

How not to make friends with a mobster

With the very welcome news that Mr. Malahide will be returning as genial gangster George Cornelius in the new series of “Luther“, Admin and I thought we should revisit one of our favourite George C. scenes.  In S04E02, DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) – who is searching for answers as to who might have killed his paramour/muse/homicidal-maniac-on-call Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) – realizes, after a somewhat clumsy attempt on his life, that he’s on someone’s kill list.  He also realizes that the likely culprit is George Cornelius (Mr. Malahide), whom he kidnapped and handcuffed to a radiator for questioning in S04E01, in the mistaken belief that George C. had something to do with Alice’s murder.   George C. is actually innocent of that deed, but he is in a rather bad mood after being kidnapped, handcuffed to a radiator, and left for hours with no food, water, or bathroom facilities.  So in retaliation, George C. has “greenlit” Luther for elimination by any hitman in the area who can get him.  In this scene, Luther phones up George C. to talk things over, and hopefully get the hitmen called off.

Getting ready to do some cooking

Getting ready to do some cooking

[George C. is getting ready to cook something in his brightly lit, well-appointed kitchen when his mobile goes off.  He’s immaculately dressed in an expensive-looking white shirt and dark trousers, looking fresh as a daisy after his ordeal with the radiator, although one wrist is heavily bandaged.]

George C. [picking up his phone]:  Wotcher?
Luther:  George?
George C.:  All right, John?  You still with us, then?  [He puts the phone on speaker and continues cooking preparations.]
Luther:  Eh, just about.  One of your boys just had a pop at me.
George C.:  Well, obviously I don’t know what you’re talking about, officer.  But if I did, I’d probably say, “They wouldn’t be my boys, specifically.”  See, if you’ve been greenlit, allegedly [he chuckles], every would-be hitman in London  would be after you.  How was he, by the way?
Luther:  Rubbish.

"Wotcher?"

“Wotcher?”

RF:  I like George C’s casual “Wotcher?” and the way he shows only a little amused surprise that Luther is calling him:  “You still with us, then?”.  I also like how he puts the phone on speaker and continues with his cooking preparations, as if he isn’t discussing a hit contract on a cop.  Of course, he takes care to deny everything – albeit not very convincingly – while at the same time letting Luther know exactly who “greenlit” him, and what’s going to happen.  And he even asks for Luther’s review of the hitmen, like he’s compiling something for Yelp.

"...every would-be hitman in London would be after you."

“…every would-be hitman in London would be after you.”

Admin:  That has to be the world’s most charmingly roguish way for a gangster to answer his phone.  Notice how it all conveys a sense of easy confidence too.  George’s amusement over Luther’s predicament is fun.  Little wonder they are bringing him back for a return visit in series 5.  I like how he wasn’t at all surprised that the would-be hitmen were rubbish.  No wonder he went to the trouble of letting Luther know they weren’t likely to be on his regular pay roll.  He doesn’t want anyone thinking that is the level of help he has. The whole thing seems rather amusing to him.  That said, there is a definite hint of steely menace when he said “every would-be hitman in London”.  That is a very dangerous and determined look he has glinting in his eyes.

"So, how can I help?"

“So, how can I help?”

George C. [with an indrawn breath]:  Whoopsie daisy.  So, how can I help?
Luther:  George, just lay off.  I’ve got a nutjob running around London eating people, and I’ve got a dead kid.
George C.:  What do you mean, “Dead kid”?
Luther:  Yeah.  Now, you and me, we’re old school, right?  We’re on the same page when it comes to dead kids.
George C.:  What’s this, Billy Bacon and the soft-centered Cockney Villain?

"George, just lay off. I've got a nutjob running around London eating people, and I've got a dead kid."

“George, just lay off. I’ve got a nutjob running around
London eating people, and I’ve got a dead kid.”

RF:  Even though George has greenlit Luther, he’s still perfectly willing to have a civil conversation with him.  I like his theatrically shocked, indrawn breath when Luther says the hitmen were “rubbish”; you probably could hire help with more pride in their jobs back in George’s heyday.  But at the same time, he also resists Luther’s attempt to appeal to his better nature by calling him “old school” – although George is old school – by cynically referring to himself as the “soft-centered Cockney villain”.  Evidently George has a very good idea of what kind of trope he appears to be.  Answering his phone with “wotcher?” seems to suggest that he plays up to it, too.

"What's this, Billy Bacon and the soft-centered Cockney Villain?"

“What’s this, Billy Bacon and the soft-centered
Cockney Villain?”

Admin: I love the way George briskly asks how he can help.  He’s so charming.  He gets momentarily ruffled when Luther brings up the “dead kid” though.  Maybe he thinks Luther is going to try and pin it on him.  He quickly regains his composure and is back to cracking jokes about “Billy Bacon” when Luther essentially admits he mentioned it as a means of activating George’s moral compass.

RF:  “Billy Bacon and the Soft-Centered Cockney Villain” sounds like the name of a bizarre but entertaining comic book.  😀

Admin:  Quentin Blake could illustrate it!

Luther:  Thing is, George, I think this dead kid is connected to our thing.  Alice Morgan.
George C. [incredulously]:  How?
[A very attractive woman wearing nothing but lingerie comes into George C’s kitchen.  She gets a glass of water from the sink.]
Luther:  Like I said, I’m not sure.  But I know it’s connected.
George C.:  What are we now, psychic?
Luther:  Yeah, funny you should say that.

George's guest arrives

George’s guest arrives

RF:  Well, evidently George soothed his trauma in a few ways besides just having a hot shower and putting on some fresh clothes.  He has a very pretty guest with him, who’s about to share whatever he’s making.  I also like the fact that George is so confident in his cooking abilities that he doesn’t even bother to roll up his (expensive) sleeves; he’s even wearing cufflinks, making these some of the classiest omelettes ever.

"What are we now, psychic?"

“What are we now, psychic?”

RF:  Besides all of that, I also like the fact that Luther is actually bouncing ideas off George and is, in a way, asking him for advice –  or at least for a bit of sympathy.  Paradoxically, George is one of the friendlier people he’s discussed the case with, and George has had him greenlit.  George’s remark about Luther being “psychic” is ironic in view of the fact that Megan Cantor (Laura Haddock), who told Luther about Alice’s death, is also claiming psychic powers.  Luther’s got a bit of everything going on in this one.

You know those eggs are free-range organic.

You know those eggs are free-range organic.

Admin:  That is an interesting way of looking at it, but yeah, George C. seems to have an almost therapeutic affect for Luther.  Not that he’s soothing or anything (he isn’t), but he’s very easy to talk to.  George is also far more interested in what Luther has to say than  anyone could possibly expect him to be.  The fact he is listening to Luther at all is surprising.  It is obvious that deep down George likes ol’ Billy Bacon.

RF:  Maybe George respects Luther, in an odd way, for kidnapping him and handcuffing him to that radiator.  It was certainly a sort of George-like tactic, and not the way any other copper would dare to treat him.  But at the same time, George definitely isn’t going to forgive Luther for doing it.

George C.  On the basis of this… funny feeling in your belly, you’re asking for what?  A stay of execution?  They broke the mould after you popped out, didn’t they?
[The lady wraps herself around George and gazes up at him admiringly as he continues prepping ingredients.  It appears he’s about to make omelettes.]
Luther:  Yeah, that’s what my mum used to say.

"On the basis of this... funny feeling in your belly, you're asking for what? A stay of execution?"

“On the basis of this… funny feeling in your belly,
you’re asking for what? A stay of execution?”

RF:  George glances at his guest with complete unconcern as he continues to prepare the omelettes while simultaneously carrying on a conversation with Luther.  He really is a true multi-tasker, barely looking at what his hands are doing.  😉  His guest sidles up close to him and gazes up at him admiringly before leaving again, so obviously she’s heard good things about his cooking skills.  Meanwhile, George doesn’t seem too inclined to give Luther a break just because he might have figured something out about Alice’s murder.

"They broke the mould after you popped out, didn't they?"

“They broke the mould after you popped out, didn’t they?”

Admin: George is certainly a man of many talents.  And one certainly can’t blame his guest for being very impressed by him.  He’s an impressive fellow.  He is keeping his cool as he casually banters with the bloke he’s put a hit on.  But, you know that George actually is listening to what is being said and filing it away for future reference.  It is also clear that he has a certain jovial respect for Luther with his “broke the mould” quip.

George C.:  Your sainted mother.   Is this another appeal to my maudlin East End heart?
Luther:  No.  Whatever.
George C.:  Well, I hated my mother, John.  And greenlit is greenlit, I’m afraid.  It’s out of my hands.  [He begins whipping eggs in a bowl.]  I’ll see you on the other side of the veil.  [He laughs at his own joke as he hangs up.]
[Luther gets into his car and sighs in frustration.]

"Your sainted mother. Is this another appeal to my maudlin East End heart?"

“Your sainted mother. Is this another appeal
to my maudlin East End heart?”

RF:  Apparently Cockney crims are expected to revere their mothers, but George doesn’t.  😉  Referring to his “maudlin East End heart” is another way he lampshades the trope he’s supposed to embody, but he’s back to all business.  He refuses to call off the contract and throws in some gallows humour on top of it:  “I’ll see you on the other side of the veil.”  That comment also sorts nicely with his comment about Luther being “psychic” earlier.  Clearly George is having way too much fun with this one.  I suppose one can hardly blame him after being left handcuffed to a radiator, though.

"And greenlit is greenlit, I'm afraid. It's out of my hands."

“And greenlit is greenlit, I’m afraid. It’s out of my hands.”

Admin:  Oh dear.  I think George might be taking a wee bit of offense at some of the Cockney crim stereotypes that are being thrown his way. He’s a modern man, don’t you know.  He vapes e-cigs.  He cooks for his girlfriend.  The only thing he’s missing is a smart phone.  There is a tiny bit of regret as he explains the dire meaning of greenlit though, so he perhaps does have a softer center than he is willing to admit to.  Of course, he ends it all on chuckle.  He can’t have Luther thinking he’s harboring any feelings of sorrow over the hit. 🙂

Wrap-Up:

"I'll see you on the other side of the veil."

“I’ll see you on the other side of the veil.”

RF:  This was just a delightful scene.  I love the juxtaposition of George’s home-cooking skills with the fact Luther is trying to negotiate him into dropping the hit, while at the same time asking George for advice, in a roundabout way.  And in an equally roundabout way, George is about the most sympathetic (and yet experienced) listener Luther could ever hope to find.  Who else knows about mayhem if not for an old school gangster?  And I also like the fact that, as Admin says, George appears to be a surprisingly progressive guy.  He knows his way around the kitchen and cooks for his guest.  Even while he’s telling Luther he can’t call off the hit, he maintains an undeniable level of charm.  Leave it to Mr. Malahide to balance all of those things so well.  🙂

Laughing at his own joke.

Laughing at his own joke.

Admin:  It is an excellent scene.  George’s energy and brightness are a lovely juxtaposition to Luther’s more dour and dark edge.  Also George adds a bit of comedic relief through his roguish and sly sense of humour while always maintaining a dangerous gangster edge.  Watching “Luther” can be a very (sometimes overly) gruesome and stomach turning experience, so the wily Cockney crim is a very, very welcome addition.   He is so animated, and this scene displays that perfectly.  He shows several emotions – humour, menace, and even a titch of regret while performing a seemingly mundane task with an obvious flare.  He is very much a scene stealer, and we are very grateful indeed for his presence.

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