TBTS Reviews: Wallander Series 1
Frequent readers of my posts here at The Tweed will be quite aware of my current obsession with Tom Hiddleston (as mentioned here and here and here). I’ve lately been stalking his IMDB page, trying to find and watch every movie/TV show/random YouTube clip I can find of him. In doing so, I stumbled across Wallander, a gem of a show from the BBC. Series 1 and 2 (Seasons 1 and 2 for all us Yankees) are available on Netflix, and I immediately added them to my queue.
Wallander stars Kenneth Branagh as the title character, Kurt Wallander, a taciturn detective with the Ystad Police Department. As lead investigator, Wallander must solve a series of tragic and gruesome murders with the help of his staff: Anne-Britt and Magnus, his junior detectives (played by Sarah Smart and Hiddleston), and Nyberg, the resident forensics guy (played by Richard McCabe). Wallander is brilliant but gruff; his co-workers generally find his manner off-putting and his case theories unfounded and sometimes ridiculous, thought ultimately he always proves right in the end. Each 90-minute episode is based on a novel by Henning Mankell, with three episodes per series.
Series 1 brings Sidetracked, Firewall, and One Step Behind to the screen. In Sidetracked, Wallander must investigate a series of murders in which the killer keeps part of the victims’ scalps. He sees a young girl set herself on fire, and eventually ties her death and the murders together in a human sex trafficking plot. In Firewall, the brutal murder of a taxi driver by two teenage girls triggers an investigation that leads Wallander and his team to uncover a plot to bring down the international financial system. Finally, in One Step Behind, Wallander must discover the link between the murder of three young adults and that of his colleague Svedberg, who was harboring a dangerous secret that cost him his life.
When the series opens, we see Wallander in the middle of a separation from his wife, who’s left him because he was more committed to his job than to his family. His relationship with his daughter is strained, but they’re both making an effort. Without his family he is lost, and his daughter becomes more of a parent to him than he is to her. At work he is clearly brilliant — he seems to have a gut instinct that rarely fails him, but that confidence and surety does not cross over to his personal life. When his daughter eventually tells him that his wife has moved on, he clumsily tries to date again, with spectacularly awful results. The series ends with Wallander learning that he has Type II diabetes and that he must start taking better care of his health, but really he must start taking care of himself all around. It’s clear that he’s been used to having a wife look after him, and without her he doesn’t seem to know how to care for himself. Between eating poorly, not exercising, barely sleeping, and going days between showers when in the throes of a case, we see that as sharp and clever as he may be as a detective, he is total crap when it comes to being an actual human.
Kenneth Branagh definitely carries this show, as it really is all about Kurt Wallander, but the supporting cast were excellently chosen. Anne-Britt is played extremely well by Sarah Smart, who carefully walks the line between dutiful subordinate and voice-of-reason to Wallander. There is, thankfully, no sexual tension or hints at a romantic relationship between the two — they’re work colleagues, nothing more. Hiddleston is quite funny as Magnus Martinson, the put-upon junior detective who is constantly made to answer the phone and do the grunt work no one else wants to do. He is useful in his own way, though — he is the only one in the department who gets the “tech,” and he saves Wallander’s life and the life of his daughter in the series finale. My only complaint: that hair. I mean, seriously, just look at it.
What’s interesting about Wallander is that it was adapted in Swedish and English at the same time. The Swedish language version began production in 2008 and was released in early 2009, while the British version was filmed in 2008 and released later that same year. The British series adapted the novels out of order, resulting in changes to the characters’ backstories, but for the most part remained true to the books. All three episodes were filmed in Sweden, with its vast, sweeping landscapes adding to the sense of isolation Wallander himself seems to feel. This melancholy is also reflected in the opening theme, “Nostalgia” by Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo, a heartbreaking and haunting piece of music. Wallander is the kind of show you want to watch on a rainy Saturday in your pajamas, with a warm cup of coffee in your hand and the afternoon stretching out lazily in front of you.