Written by Caballero Oscuro
It’s surprising to find noted film actor/director Kenneth Branagh starring in a TV production, especially one that seems closer to CSI than Shakespeare, but Wallander is a suitable vehicle for his talents. For those unfamiliar with the property, the character of Kurt Wallander originated in a best-selling series of nine crime fiction novels by Swedish author Henning Mankell. All nine novels were subsequently made into films in Sweden, and in the past few years a new Swedish series based on original stories was also produced. Now the mighty BBC has joined in the fun with this latest production featuring a British cast playing the Swedish characters.
Wallander is a humorless, driven detective working in the sleepy town of Ystad in southern Sweden . He’s separated from his wife, distant from his father and daughter, and completely consumed by his work. Once he latches onto a case, he devotes every fiber of his being to its closure, leaving him frequently short on sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, and nurturing relationships. In short, he’s let himself go to seed and doesn’t seem to get any joy out of his life or career, but keeps doggedly plugging away anyway. Unfortunately for him, there’s no shortage of grisly murder cases in his idyllic town. Branagh nails the world-weary nature of the character, and while he’s not exactly a sympathetic character, he’s clearly a fully-developed and intriguing one.
Oddly, as mentioned before, this is a British production that passes itself off as a Swedish property. It’s disconcerting to hear these supposedly Swedish characters speak of being “knackered” and other similar Brit phrases while clearly existing in Sweden, making it seem like the series should have been transplanted to the UK. This is addressed in the bonus features where the producers point out that the setting of Ystad is so integral to the material that they couldn’t dream of setting it elsewhere.
Basically, it’s not just about the crimes, but the setting in which they’re committed, as the source novels apparently have much to say about the changing socioeconomic climate of Sweden as contrasted with the gruesome, almost otherworldly murders concocted by the writers. In one episode, a rape victim douses herself with gasoline and torches herself in front of Wallander in the middle of a beautiful field of flowers. In another, a victim’s eyes are burned out with acid. The series never shies away from showing the explicit physical results of the murders, but also does a fine job of vividly establishing a strong sense of the place they’re committed.
The new two-disc DVD box set includes all three feature-length Wallander episodes produced to date, along with a healthy assortment of bonus features. In the longest feature, a fellow crime-fiction writer visits the real world settings in Ystad used in the novels before sitting down with original author Mankell for an in-depth conversation about his history and motivation as well as the larger picture of the monumental changes in Sweden during his lifetime, from the murders of two prime ministers to the country’s failure to properly integrate immigrants allowed such free entry into their country via its Utopian ideals. In another feature, Branagh and Mankell sit down to discuss the Wallander character. All of the features are insightful and above-par, well worth watching for viewers interested in the character or just additional perspective on the country of Sweden .