The Swede Thatís Like a Potato

The Herald, 1 December 2008
By David Belcher

Wallander? Walloper, more like.

As the Swedish detective inspector, Kenneth Branagh moped round the seaside town of Ystad, leadenly pursuing a serial killer. His weaponry? A gloomy and grizzled resolve. Branagh's unshaven potato face, invisible lips and faintly annoyed expression evoked Ross Kemp, albeit a Ross Kemp who'd been equipped with an Elton John wig. Jolly and engaging, this whole ensemble wasn't. Mind you, Inspector Kurt Wallander wasn't having one of his happier working days. It began with him horribly close to a suicidal teenage girl's self-immolation in a field of oil-seed rape. Soon thereafter, Wallander was up to his cheesed-off oxters in dead middle-aged sex-pervs, axed in the noggin and then scalped.

On top of that, Wallander had more emotional turmoil to bear than any other TV 'tec whose surname constitutes his show's title. Frost. Lewis. Morse. Dalziel (but not Pascoe). Simpering lightweights in the angst stakes, the lot of 'em.

Wallander was enduring a trial separation from his wife; being chided by his daughter about his distant relationship with his elderly father; worrying that said elderly father was exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's. Worse still, his police colleagues were no help in advancing Wallander's murder inquiry. His bespectacled young twit of a psychological profiler could only identify the multiple killer as being the angry inhabitant of a psychic borderland. No poop, Sherlock.

Then the profiler began probing Wallander's own tormented inner void, proffering expert sympathy. Being real coppers, of course, Frost and co would have rebuffed it. Wallander meekly accepted. Puh.

And that's not all. In a criminal waste of her smouldering sassiness, the darkly yummy Sarah Smart was cast in an ill-defined forensics role which merely required her to float in the background. looking agonised Another multi-faceted actor, teenager Nicholas Hoult, was woefully under-used as the show's obvious-at-first-glance killer. He was initially called upon to appear harrowed yet sensitive, before having mud daubed on his face in a manner meant to signal avenging warrior. What we got was rugby-playing yahoo.

Elsewhere in Wallander came fleeting moments during which contemporary Sweden's national psyche was subjected to a spot of self-examination, as in Henning Mankell's original novels. Were its problems down to its liberal social experiments of the recent past? What underlying malaise truly prompted the shooting of Swedish PM Olof Palme?

Wallander soon dismissed such philosophical navel-gazing with its own unstated question: look, this is well-to-do, well-adjusted Sweden, and we've got enough to get on with in assembling a police procedural, so who cares?

Wallander: it don't grab yer.


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