News & Star, 6 December 2008
Don't you just love it when a plan comes together? 'Wallander' (BBC1) makes Morse look like the laughing policeman - and Kenneth Branagh like a superlatively cracking actor.
In a welcome departure from Brit-pack Shakespeare and B-list rom-com, Branagh is a surprising tour-de-force as the Swedish detective with the weight of the world on his shoulders and more pressing family issues than any public servant should decently be asked to carry.
This exciting series of three 90-minute feature films emerged from Branagh's passion for Henning Mankell's crime-thriller books - and it shows. Imagine being in the supremely privileged position of loving a novel so much you can turn yourself into its hero and produce the films that transform your own life into his - proving finally there's more to you than an Elizabethan guy in tights.
Branagh is that person. He became Wallander and has triumphed with a beautifully crafted incarnation.
Inspector Kurt Wallander is Sweden's most successful literary export, an international brand loved by aficionados of the best of the genre. He's by no means the most attractive cop on the book shelf - but was clearly a joy to recreate for film.
He is clinically miserable, dishevelled, uncertain, insecure and bordering on ugly. His lifestyle is uncharacteristically unhealthy - for a Scandinavian.
He eats too much fried and junk food, drinks heavily and his temper is dangerously short. Wallander lost his wife in a messy divorce and he's ineptly struggling to rebuild some kind of relationship with his long-suffering daughter. He is marvellously pessimistic about just about everything and - or a new classic detective - appears to rely less on cunning than on luck, slow hard slog and the consoling thought that he could retire soon and keep pigs, to carry him through his crime-fighting day.
There's a sadness and weariness about him that Branagh portrays with touching truth.
In the first episode, as he struggled to identify a brutal serial killer always one step ahead of him, his troubled and unhappy relationship with his father - suffering dementia - was heartbreaking. At the end of his tether, isolated and frightened by the investigation of dark, gory murders, he turned to his dad to confide tearfully his belief he shouldn't be a policeman any more.
In a moment of lucidity, Dad came through with an inspired 'be who you are," comfort and a squeeze of the hand. Cue audience tears of breathless admiration. Bravo Branagh!