Your Next Box Set: Wallander
Its basic tenets are familiar, but with all its small, unsettling strangenesses and its piercing visual style, Wallander makes the TV detective genre fresh and surprising again
The Guardian, 19 February 2010
Once, when you thought of Kenneth Branagh, it would be 'Hamlet' or 'Henry V' that sprung to mind. Despite a varied film career, an air of the stage, particularly the RSC, has always clung to him. How unlikely, then, that he has now found such a distinctive new identity as a TV detective, in two series of 'Wallander', adapted by the BBC from Swedish writer Henning Mankell's globally bestselling crime novels.
Shabby, weary and fiery, but intuitive, Branagh's Kurt Wallander covers a beat familiar among smallscreen cops: that of the gifted, dogged professional battling quietly with mental torments and domestic implosions. The dangerous undercurrents threatening to drag him down are his loneliness and his turbulent family relationships. The murders he investigates are startling in their sinister, baroque savagery (why just stab someone when you can scalp them, execute them during a fancy-dress picnic, or tie them to a tree and strangle them?), but we have seen such merciless cruelty in other crime series, such as 'Wire in the Blood'.
What sears these six 90-minute, Bafta-laden dramas, now collected as a box set, into the mind is their visual sense. Stunningly filmed on hi-res digital cameras, Wallander perfectly captures the quiet, bleak beauty of the south Swedish countryside, its duned beaches, prettily painted clapboard houses, golden wheat fields rippling under scudding clouds; the sense of unending summer days and barely dark nights (Wallander constantly rubs his red eyes); his sparsely elegant modernist bungalow and the police station with classic mid-century decor.
Then there are all the small strangenesses that gently unsettle: the lefthand drives and guns (armed police in civilised Sweden?); his naggingly distinctive yet totally unfamiliar ringtone; the foreign names dropped without accent into the natural English dialogue. We know this type of man and we have watched such tales before, and still we know that Wallander will surprise us.