Wallander: Testament to Kenneth Branagh's Greatness

The Telegraph: Blog, 1 December 2008
By Serena Davies

The first episode of Wallander has been a palpable hit with both TV critics and the public, despite its daft central narrative about a deranged teenager scalping politicians. This is for one reason and one reason only. Not, as literary enthusiasts might hope, because of the towering significance of Swedish author Henning Mankell, whose Wallander detective novels have been best-sellers the world over. A quick straw pole of my friends and neighbours revealed scant knowledge of the books, sadly.

No, people are watching this programme because of the oddly hypnotic pulling power of its star Kenneth Branagh. Branagh's not a looker, that's been oft remarked upon, but examining his face in close-up, as the Wallander cameras did for much of the 90 minutes duration of yesterday's opening episode, proves a remarkably rewarding experience. Every tic, every furrow of human agony becomes oddly interesting when Ken Branagh's doing it. If viewers first turned their tvs on to see quite what had attracted this great stage actor (and highly erratic movie director) back to the small screen, they stayed because Branagh can make the prospensity to burst into tears every five minutes as compelling as true-life tragedy.

As Wallander's storylines get ever more mental (and believe me, they will) it will fall to Branagh single-handedly to make them all believable. A challenge at which he may well triumph.

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