Branagh's Different Detective

This Is South Wales, 28 November 2008
By Ulf Mårtensson

YES, I know it's another fictional detective transformed into Sunday night fodder. Yes, I realise he is a maverick, drinks too much and has a broken marriage behind him, but this latest addition to the crime-busting genre really is worth giving a chance.

Sadly, another TV publication has grabbed the best way of describing Wallander in just two words (Inspector Norse — that's classy headline writing), so I will have to be a bit more verbose. However, there is no escaping the main hook for the series (they all have one — whether it's Ironside's wheelchair, Frost's trilby and car coat or Inspector Barnaby's wife, who happens to be linked to every murder victim in the whole of Midsomer): it is set in Sweden.

Of course, it does it no harm to have a genuine star — Kenneth Branagh — taking the title role.

Kurt Wallander is a small-time policeman who keeps the streets, or rather the countryside of Ystad, as crime-free as possible. He has diabetes (perhaps they considered The Diabetic Detective as an alternative title) and an awkward relationship with his father.

He is also the hero of a series of best-selling books by Henning Mankell and provides the opportunity to have a policeman pounding an altogether different beat.

Granted, the stories of horrific killings are only too familiar from our usual offerings, but the wide open landscapes, the swathes of yellow rape fields and the alternative architecture gives this an entirely different feel.

Kurt does drive a Volvo, and I am sure I recognise a few things in his sparsely decorated flat from the Ikea catalogue, which helps enforce the whole Swedish thing, but he isn't eating gravalax or whistling tunes from Mamma Mia as he tries to find the psychopath responsible for scalping four men.

Branagh is as compelling as ever, as a brooding, disenchanted man tired of the horrors he is asked to tidy up for society. But there are no Muppet Show Swedish accents, it is played dead straight — just like Van Der Valk was decades ago — and benefits from it.

The pace is also very different — there are silences, moments when Branagh is allowed to fill the screen, alone in his misery — but it is never long before his jarring jaunty mobile phone ringtone slashes through the calm to bring news of yet more horrors for poor Kurt to solve.

Altogether a satisfying debut but as this reeks of class, and another two episodes have already been filmed, it looks as if Wallander will be around to give the likes of Taggart and Lewis a run for their money for a while yet.

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