To begin with, it sounded preposterous that BBC should adapt a running, successful Swedish series. However, the news that Kenneth Branagh will play the eponymous ‘Wallander’ in the BBC Crime series, lifted much of gloom. Gloom and melancholy was to return in spades when I decided to check out the series and went through two seasons over a weekend, all the full length movies six full length movies.
Branagh, an old war horse, tunes in rather deeply with his subject material. This is evident from his forays in Shakespeare and even Harry Potter series. Here he was made to tune in a veritable quagmire of darkness. He is down in dumps with pessimisms that life has inflicted on him. Mishandled personal life and an overhang of a father who is disappearing in Alzheimer. It does not help that he is a good detective with a sensitivity fit for an aid worker. He is deeply affected by the cruelty and wanton violence that he encounters during the course of his duty. But most of the darkness comes from his own visage and the landscape that is hauntingly filmed. Ystad, Skåne län, Sweden, from the eye of the camera becomes an active protagonist.
Overall, I liked the series. It is a realized piece of mystery. We may feel bogged down by the atmosphere and may feel that Wallander’s response to his personal problems is coming in the way of story-telling. But once you accept the premise that it’s a series where they have chosen melancholy as the chief accompanying mood for the mystery and detective work, you will appreciate that they have succeeded. There are series where atmosphere is provided by the banter between the main actor and his sidekick, (Lewis, Morse and even Sherlock Holms). Some rely on the eccentricity of the detective, Poirot comes to mind. Here, it is debilitating sadness and almost unhygienic presence of the protagonist. Branagh is well clued in and does not get irritating with the overdose of inertia causing gloom. His ability to become super cop when needed is both baffling and redeeming. His fondness for prop himself up for the charges of inattentive father, son and husband borders on unfair. His disposition, commitment to work and genuine efforts to be of some use are never taken into consideration in this regard. Acting triumphs as it is mostly Branagh and he is too solid to bungle this. He is authoritative and is a treat to watch if you sit to appreciate good acting. How he avoids clichés and skirts hamming in a very heavy-handed atmosphere is a master-class in acting.
Mystery and detective work is top notch and that is saying a lot given the high standards in various BBC series. Plots, contrived sometimes but have enough twists, horror and provide satisfaction by being sufficiently grisly.
Accompanying cast is simple and is there to play a background role. Sometimes they are made deliberately stupid. For example in the first episode of the second season his efforts to play down xenophobia meet the wall of stupidity of his colleague. However, David Warner as Alzheimer ridden painter and a father with conflicted disappointment with his son, almost manages to steal Branagh’s thunder in their scenes together.
However, there is no denying the fact that there are times when we wish to shake him up and ask him to take a bath and a nice shave and generally break out of his depression. Towards the end of the second series and the last episode, they are slowly moving towards that as the episode ended with a smiling Wallander, bidding goodbye to his father at his grave and leaving the stranglehold of his wedding ring on the gravestone. He even moves away with a potential love interest. This makes the third season worth waiting for.