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DVD Review: Wallander (2008) (BBC Series)

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The fictitious Kurt Wallander has had many film and television incarnations in his native Sweden. But this interpretation of Wallander gives us the first English-language adaptation of a brilliantly flawed detective. Kurt Wallander is a very lonely and rather detached individual who finds it difficult to leave his work at the station. His work haunts him nightly. His wife has recently left him indefinitely. Meanwhile, his daughter is trying to integrate him back into society, but to little avail.

Playing the role of Wallander is Kenneth Branagh. Now, normally, Kenneth Branagh gets under my skin. More often than not, he comes off as either an egotistical bastard or an arrogant prick. Sometimes both. Of course, those unlikable attributes are usually part of the role he may inhabit at the time. But in Wallander, Branagh plays it as genuine as possible – and never once makes me want to bitch-slap him.

But back to the series. Wallander brings us three feature-length stories from crime author Henning Mankell’s novels. It isn’t long after the breathtaking beginning of “Sidetracked” that the viewer finds him or herself hooked. The story, wherein Wallander investigates the murders of several important figures (all of whom are scalped), is far more addictive than anything American cable television offers. The hunger grows during the second installment, “Firewall” (as a seemingly random killing by an eighteen-year-old girl leads to more and more mayhem) and increases in “One Step Behind,” the final outing – which is also the most personal for our hero.

I confess I have never seen any of the foreign language Wallander films or TV series — nor have I read the books — so I cannot compare works. But from the beautiful photography to the haunting theme song by Emily Barker (“Nostalgia”), it is clear Branagh and the BBC have truly created a winner here — and this Wallander makes me want to give the other adaptations a good once over as well.

The whole of this series was filmed in the real-life town of Ystad, Sweden — where Mankell’s creation lives in the novels – using British actors and actresses (none of whom insult us by using phony Swedish accents, thankfully). The series has earned a huge following from faithful Mankell readers and newbies alike, and Warner Home Video has been kind enough to present all three installments on DVD.

Presented in an anamorphic widescreen ratio of 1.78:1, Wallander looks absolutely marvelous on video. The transfer does a splendid job of preserving the lush High Def cinematography and rich colors. Accompanying each episode is a choice between English 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Optional English SDH subtitles are available as well – and are carried over from the Region 2 UK DVD release (so expect English spelling).

If you’re looking for special features, than you’ll be pleased to know there are four featurettes on Disc Two. “Who is Kurt Wallander?” goes into the creation and development of the character; “The Wallander Look” explores the look and feel of the series; “Branagh and Mankell Interview” has both artists sitting down for a chat and going over the character (see if you can count how many times Branagh takes a drink of something) and “Branagh’s Wallander” leaves us with the actor/producer diving into his passion for the character once again.

If you love British drama, you’ll love Wallander. If you love murder mysteries, you’ll love Wallander. If you love Kenneth Branagh, please seek help. But watch Wallander first.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.
  • Bliffle

    I was fortunate to see one of the Swedish episodes of “Wallander” on local PBS several months ago and I thought it was stunning. The cinematography, acting, etc. was great. Very different from anything on American TV. The Branagh episodes are also very good.

    You might also like the “Montalbano” novels on TV about a Sicilian detective.