TV Review: Wallander

Leicester Mercury, 1 December 2008
By Sian Brewis
**Thanks Anna

For a country that produced Abba and all their chirpy pop, who knew Sweden was such a glum place? Kenneth Branagh as the brilliant Wallander (Sunday, BBC 1, 9pm) is gloom personified in a programme which appears to be lit by the power of a 40-watt bulb.

But here’s the thing: it could, finally, fill the Morse-shaped hole in telly detective drama. Try as they might to replace him, TV never really came up with a credible replacement for Oxford’s dour detective. Lynley, Frost, Dalziel were all right, but it was kind of like being served a lemonade when you’d ordered a single malt.

Introducing another grumpy detective in Britain could easily evolve into another dull police procedural. Choosing a Swedish detective makes it all seem a bit exotic and different, and Branagh’s performance is top notch. Wallander ticks all the right boxes: he’s miserable, he’s clever, he has "emotional baggage", his wife’s left him and he’s happiest alone sipping whisky at home.

Not that he had much chance to do that last night, what with bodies piling up at a rate which would make John Nettles proud. One girl sets herself on fire, two men get scalped and a third has his eyes soaked out with acid.

Beautifully shot, resolutely cheerless and claustrophobic, it looks and feels like nothing else on TV at the moment. Misery hasn’t been this much fun since the Smiths.

Wallander’s glum personality is stamped all over the show. His home is has its walls covered in darkest wood panelling. He walks down gloomy corridors. When he drives, he’s always in shadow. Instead of Oxford’s dreaming spires, we have Sweden’s desolate looking cliffs. There’s lots of nice blue and yellow sequences set up all over the place, too, just to remind you that you’re in Sweden.

There’s a lovely cameo which captured the difference between this and American detective shows. A weedy-looking profiler, Max Echo, is brought in and starts to give Wallander’s deeply disinterested team his profile of the killer. "He’s in a 'psychic borderland?'" sneers Wallander. Nobody writes down anything the profiler says. They look bored. If this was an American series, everyone would be furiously scribbling as though handed the Ten Commandments. "So," concludes Wallander, cuttingly. "We are looking for someone who seems completely normal on the surface. Ve-ee-rr-y helpful."

Morse, you feel, would have approved

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