Wallander: An Event in Autumn starring Kenneth Branagh PREVIEW

Kenneth Branagh returns as Wallander. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1: Sunday, 8 July, 9pm

Story: A young pregnant woman is seen plunging from a ferry travelling from Poland to Sweden. As Kurt Wallander is summoned to inspect her remains found on a beach, a death closer to home soon comes to haunt him.

You have to marvel at Kurt Wallander’s rotten luck. Not exactly the laughing policeman at the best of times, the glum one has no sooner found himself a lovely country retreat to share with the new woman in his life than a corpse turns up in his garden.

‘Is this fate?’ he moans. Of course it is, Kurt. The gods – or author Henning Mankell – are going to put you through the emotional wringer again. And in this opening first of three atmospheric films, Wallander is literally reduced to tears.

Saskia Reeves as Vanja

At least the forensic pathologist retains his sense of humour. Having studied the human remains in Wallander’s garden, he says, ‘Thought you were trying not to take your work home with you.’

Missing women and prostitution
Saskia Reeves appeared as Vanja in the last story we saw, 2010’s The Fifth Woman, and here the relationship has moved on encouragingly for Kurt, so much so that she and her young son are helping the detective settle into his country idyll.

However, Wallander is soon pulled away into a dispiriting investigation involving missing women and prostitution. Kenneth Branagh returns to his lead role as Wallander, a part that’s already won him a Bafta, and he has a real feel for the character, playing him with bottled-up emotions and a decency that makes him hugely appealing.

As Wallander and Ann-Britt Hoglund try to trace missing women who may be the body in the garden, they have a confrontation with the vile Petrus, who keeps vicious dogs and has probably been prostituting his own daughters. It is little wonder that Wallander’s need to reconcile such experiences with the normality hoped for by Vanja seem doomed.

Hitchcockian murder in the woods

Petrus taunts Wallander

The BBC and ITV are often criticised these days for a lack of ambition, with acclaim continuing to be lavished on HBO series from the US and Nordic noir from Sweden and Denmark, but while the Beeb’s Wallander still can’t match the 20 episodes devoted to The Killing, each story is beautifully filmed and directed (this first one by Toby Haynes).

An Event in Autumn is an engrossing and chilling opener, complete with a rural stalker, local oddball neighbour and an almost Hitchcockian murder in a country lane two thirds of the way through. Along with Line of Duty, it shows the BBC’s summer drama may be small scale, but the quality is superb.

Cast: Kenneth BranaghKurt Wallander, Saskia Reeves Vanja Andersson, Sarah Smart Ann-Britt Hoglund, Donald Sumpter Fredrik Thorson, Con O’Neill Jan Petrus, Claire Hackett Eva Petrus, Mark Hadfield Stefan Lindeman, Barnaby Kay Lennart Mattson, Rebekah Staton Kristina Albinsson

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One Night on BBC1 PREVIEW

Ted (Douglas Hodge) on the edge. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½

BBC1, Monday 26 March to Friday 30 March, 10.35pm 

Story: Fitted kitchen salesman Ted has slogged away for years but is now under pressure and fears he may lost his job. Then he tangles with a group of mouthy girls from the nearby school and starts a train of events that end in tragedy.

The opening episode of this four-parter about overlapping lives on a gang-infested council estate and the middle-class streets around it is uncomfortably tense at times.

Douglas Hodge’s performance as Ted, an under-pressure fitted-kitchen salesman, is so eye-rollingly on edge, that you may end up squirming on your sofa as his behaviour becomes more obsessive and disaster-bound.

Wait till I tell my brother

Rochelle (Georgina Campbell)

Ted thinks he’s missed a deal that his boss, Kenny, is counting on. His mood is put further on tilt by his having invited Kenny and his wife over for a barbeque.

Having clashed with some schoolgirls, particularly Rochelle (Georgina Campbell), outside his nice terraced house, Ted is then up the school complaining about her, which results in her suspension the day before an exam.

The best scenes then involve the barbeque, which reaches Abigail’s Party levels of bourgeois calamity, before a window is smashed by kids from the estate and Ted and Kenny corner a teen who turns out to be Rochelle’s brother. This boy threatens Ted with dire revenge from his older, gang-leader brother, and Ted’s manic bid for justice even pushes his wife and Kenny into fearing what will come next.

Saskia Reeves
Saskia Reeves is quietly strong as Ted’s suffering wife, trying to comfort him but wishing he would not get involved.

Carol (Jessica Hynes)

The series’ framing story begins with a young lad taking a handgun he has apparently found into a police station. Where did he get it? What has he seen?

When the first episode ends with a shot ringing out over the estate, we’re left wondering who has been shot, and how/if the boy was involved.

This is a drama with crime elements. It is well-acted and compelling at times, but its themes of misunderstanding and misperception leading to tragedy felt a little aimless after watching the first story.

However, the next story focuses on Rochelle and the third will involve Carol, mother of a gang member and played by Jessica Hynes, who only appears briefly in the opener. And with secret boyfriends, parent fears and gang inductions to come, the story overall could still be pulling towards a powerful finale.

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Page Eight with Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz BBC2 PREVIEW

Rachel Weisz and Bill Nighy. Pics: BBC/Heyday Films/Runaway Fridge/Carnival/NBC Universal

Rating ★★★★
BBC2 Sunday, 28 August, 9pm

Story: Johnny Worricker, an MI5 intelligence specialist, discovers that his best friend and boss, Benedict Baron, has died. The fall-out is that a dossier Benedict has left behind contains damaging information that could de-stabilise the security service – and perhaps the country.

The Beeb is chuffed that playwright and Oscar nominee David Hare has written and directed his first film in 20 years for them, and the result is a beautifully performed spy thriller with dialogue that rips along.

The terrific cast – headlined by Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes and Judy Davis – play characters with such sharp wits and hidden agendas about them that it’s almost like an episode of Yes, Minister at times.

Rachel Weisz as the beautiful neighbour
Bill Nighy is the centre of the storm as Johnny Worricker, a senior MI5 veteran with an ex-wife, a distant daughter and an illicit affair on the go. His boss and friend, Benedict Baron (Michael Gambon), circulates a top secret dossier that contains damaging information about our American allies and illegal torture victims around the world.

When Benedict dies suddenly, Johnny is left to deal with the dangerous repercussions of Benedict’s secretly sourced dossier. At the same time, Johnny is both intrigued by and suspicious of his beautiful next door neighbour, Nancy Pierpan (Rachel Weisz). ‘She was putting out the rubbish,’ he says of their first meeting. ‘Pretended it was a coincidence.’

Welcome to Johnny’s world, where a chance encounter with a delightful woman must be deemed suspicious. Trust is a recurring theme here. ‘Do you have any honest relationships?’ says Johnny’s daughter.

Michael Gambon – the smart, calculating MI5 boss
Amid the suspicions, there are many nice throwaway moments. ‘Mum always knows where you,’ Johnny’s daughter says early on. ‘Does she?’ he replies. ‘Paranormal is she?’

And Michael Gambon is a force of nature as the calculating, slightly cynical Benedict. ‘Things got so bad last night, I watched The X Factor.’

Elsewhere, Saskia Reeves is terrifically prickly as the Home Secretary, and Judy Davis is baleful as Johnny’s spiky MI5 colleague. It is after an ominous exchange with the latter that Johnny slips out of his job to dig for the truth about Benedict’s dossier.

Overtones of Tony Blair
Events can only take a fateful twist when a smiling Ralph Fiennes turns up as the Prime Minister. When an actor who specialises in characters such as Voldemort, Amon Goeth, Francis Dolarhyde and Hades appears, it could be time to start hissing.

There are heavy overtones of Tony Blair here, the former PM getting another fictional battering after Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. And when the double-talk gets treacherous – ‘If it can’t be corroborated, it can’t be correct’ – events turn murky and vindictive.

Page Eight is a world away from much of today’s mainstream crime/thriller fare, such as the adrenaline rush of Spooks or frights of Luther. It is what David Hare calls a human drama, character strong, and he is apparently so intrigued by Johnny Worricker’s predicament that he’s working on two more films about him (the BBC originally wanted a series).

Can Johnny trust anyone, and can he act with integrity? Watching him try is engrossing and even fun at times – and the jazz soundtrack really swings. 

Cast: Ralph Fiennes Alec Beasley, Rachel Weisz Nancy, Felicity Jones Julianne Worricker, Bill Nighy Johnny Worricker, Michael Gambon Benedict Baron, Ewen Bremner Rollo Madeley, Judy Davis Tankard, Tom Hughes Ralph Wilson, Holly Aird Anna, Saskia Reeves Anthea Catcheside, Richard Lintern Max Vallance

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