Review: Wallander (Series 3)
Sir Kenneth Branagh returned to our screens as the troubled detective Kurt Wallander in the first instalment of a new series of three episodes on Sunday. This first episode, 'An Event in Autumn', sees Wallander moving into a new house with his girlfriend Vanja (Saskia Reeves). However, the fresh start that he hopes for fails to materialise. After the skeleton of a young woman is found in his own back garden (a pretty convenient coincidence, but all is not as it seems) he is pulled neck-deep into the investigation surrounding it, as well as the investigation into the mangled body of another young girl that washes up on the beach nearby.
As a newcomer to Wallander, I was not sure what what to expect, especially given that I knew there to already be a Swedish-language television series adapted from the novels by Henning Mankell. It was slightly jarring to see text in newspapers written in Swedish but all of the actors speaking English, and, having heard the Swedish language spoken in programmes such as The Bridge, clearly struggling over the pronunciation of names. Nevertheless, the essential tone that has become characteristic of Scandinavian crime drama is well-preserved: bleak, stark, understated, with a pleasant undercurrent of grisliness. This may be a turn-off for those more used to the faster-paced crime shows that seem to find their way across the Atlantic from America. Rather than appealing to all-out adrenaline, Wallander smoulders, building the intrigue and tension slowly; it leads the audience’s expectation one way for a while, and then suddenly changes direction to brilliant effect.
Of course, there will be people who say that, however good Wallander is, there was no need for an English-language version of it. However, it is perhaps best to judge the series in isolation and on its own merits, of which there are many, particularly Branagh’s performance. Like the rest of the programme, he is wonderfully low-key and worthy of praise, brilliantly conveying the struggle within Wallander to cope with what he does. “I don’t think you can do what I do and not end up like this,” he says bitterly towards the end of the episode as he undergoes relationship counselling with Vanja.
Though a relatively minor element of this episode, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between the two of them is developed in the remainder of the series. As The Bridge showed us, crime drama does not necessarily have to be just about crime, and is much improved when it explores the relationships surrounding not just the central investigator, but all of their support network too and how these impact upon their respective characters. The current series of Wallander is off to a good start in this regard and I now regret not tuning into earlier instalments.
The next episode, 'The Dogs of Riga', is on BBC One, Sunday, at 9pm.