Inspector Morose: Meet Wallander, the Most Tortured Detective to Grace the Small Screen
He's Swedish, scruffy and makes Morse look like the laughing policeman. But Kenneth Branagh's new TV detective is truly magnificent
The Daily Mail, 28 November 2008
Every detective has his or her cross to bear in life. For Poirot, it is his single status, moustache and method of desperate walking, as if he were in a permanent state of looking for the nearest public convenience. For Morse, it is his ridiculous Christian name, depression, and his inability to sustain a sexual relationship. For Frost, it is his hat, moustache, moroseness, and, er, his inability to sustain a sexual relationship.
Strange facial hair, moroseness and singledom are bestowed upon detectives because, quite frankly, they wouldn't get any work done if they were to live life as normal people. Now, into this arena, steps Wallander, who has a face full of stubble, an estranged wife, a father with Alzheimer's, and the kind of introspective personality that makes Morse look like the Laughing Policeman.
Wallander, you see, is Swedish, a people not generally known for leading the world in stand-up comedy. Add to this the fact that he is played by Kenneth Branagh, who brings to the role all the intensity and passion he recently brought to Chekhov's Ivanov in London's West End, and you have a detective who is easily the most tortured to have ever graced the small screen.
The role marks a welcome return to the small screen for Branagh, who pulls off an incredibly difficult role with a performance that raises the production way above your average detective drama.
The Swedish landscape (the original, bestselling novels, by Henning Mankell, are set in Ystad, in the south of the country), shot beautifully in scenes of light and shade that mirror the inner thoughts of Wallander and the progress of the work he does, feels like a character in its own right.
I must be honest, I hadn't been optimistic about the prospect of a Swedish detective. My only knowledge of the country came from watching Bjôrn Borg playing tennis at Wimbledon and reading all about Ulrika Jonsson's latest baby/divorce/ lover.
I prepared myself for a script along the lines of 'Hurdy gurdy body-bag hurdy wordy gurdy killer grghhh grghhh', and dodgy Scandinavian accents being delivered by British actors. But Richard Cottan's scripts are delivered in plain English, and, rarely for anything remotely Swedish in the UK, Ms Jonsson does not put in an appearance; and for that we can all be grateful.
In the first episode, 'Sidetracked', we learn a number of things about Kurt Wallander: he doesn't own a razor (he is always unshaven - rather sexily, I have to say); he doesn't own a bed (he simply falls asleep in his armchair); and he doesn't know how to use the handbrake or the ignition in his car (he arrives at suspects' houses and just leaps out - incredibly, the car never rolls away).
There isn't much blood and guts on show, and, in 'Sidetracked', victims are dispatched with an axe-blow to the head that is over in a millisecond.
Wallander enlists the help of a psychological profiler - the only clichéd character throughout - but isn't impressed by his talk of the killer being someone who lives in a 'psychic borderland'. 'Fine,' says Wallander. 'Now we know we're looking for someone who seems completely normal - on the surface. Vair-y helpful.' Swedish and witty: a combination you don't see very often.
It is all very stylishly done, and Branagh is, as always, magnificent. I saw him when he came offstage after Ivanov (he is great both on stage and television), and he was completely drained. After Wallander, I suspect he needed a very long holiday indeed.
Hopefully, not in Stockholm. But he has pulled off the unthinkable: showing us that there is life in Sweden outside Ulrika Jonsson.
A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO WALLANDER
The private life