Kurt Wallander holds up his badge – ‘Wallander.’
‘Thought they would have sent a police car. Lights. Flashing.’ – Farmer
‘There was an accident on the Svarte Road. Cars with lights are all taken.’ – Kurt Wallander
Kenneth Branagh, Sarah Smart, Tom Hiddleston, David Warner, Jeany Spark
Identikit: Kurt Wallander, a police inspector and detective in Ystad, Sweden, balances his harrowing caseload with his troubled private life, including tempestuous relationships with his father and daughter.
DESPITE THE excellence of the Swedish version of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels, Kenneth Branagh was eager to try an English-language take on it, and he teamed up with Yellow Bird, Henning Mankell’s own production company for this third version of the character. Trevor Eve, David Morrissey and Clive Owen were all mentioned in connection with the role, but Branagh was a fan of the novels and got the author’s approval. There were cynical media comments before its debut on BBC1 about Brit actors speaking English in the Swedish setting, which entailed mangling place or character names, and of course anglicising Vallander to Wallander with a soft W (producer Simon Moseley thought this wise to avoid the show straying into ‘Ello! ‘Ello! territory). However, once past these incongruities, the series consisted of beautifully produced dramas, filmed on location, and looking terrific, while also offering richly textured stories. Certainly, one of the most visually arresting stories was 2012’s An Event in Autumn, directed by Toby Haynes, who capitalised beautifully on the wintry tone of the short story on which it is based. The director was flattered when Henning Mankell commented [to Barry Forshaw] that his late father-in-law, none other than Ingmar Bergman, might have been impressed. Branagh had a good cast around him too, with Sarah Smart and Tom Hiddleston as his junior colleagues, Saskia Reeves as the woman trying to build a love life with Wallander, and David Warner as his deteriorating father, Povel. The series never came close to achieving an aim stated at the time of the series’ launch of becoming British TV’s new Inspector Morse, but the first stories – Sidetracked, One Step Behind and Firewall – were definitely a cut above most detective shows (personally, I preferred it to Morse, anyway). Branagh was outstanding as the lonely, haunted detective, though the hero’s levels of angst and gloom were becoming monotonous by the time of 2012’s instalments. Hopefully, the character will move on a little for the final fourth series (consisting of The White Lioness and a two-part The Trouble Man), before retiring to rest on its seven (so far) Baftas.
Classic episode: Sidetracked, the very first BBC adaptation mixed a harrowing case (Wallander witnesses a girl setting light to herself) while introducing viewers to the personal angst of the detective (for instance, discovering that his father has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s).
Watercooler fact: Kenneth Branagh is the third actor to play Wallander as well as the third non-Swedish actor to portray famous literary detectives from the country. Walter Matthau played an Americanised version of Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall’s Martin Beck called Jake Martin in The Laughing Policeman, and Derek Jacobi was Martin Beck in Der Mann, der sich in Luft auflöste. Branagh also opted not watch his Swedish predecessors to avoid being swayed by their portrayals.