Shiny Shelf


By Mark Clapham on 30 November 2008

I’m not sure how much of BBC1’s Sunday night audience is up for a drama that begins with a teenage girl setting fire to herself in an idyllic Swedish field, the fireball separating the brilliant yellow rapeseed plants from the clear blue sky – but it certainly grabbed the attention.

Based on Henning Mankell’s detective novels, ‘Wallander’ is an English language version shot in Sweden with a predominantly British cast. On the basis of the first episode, it’s not exactly ‘Midsomer Murders’ – Wallander’s investigation here leads him on a descent into the depths of human misery and cruelty, depths which occasionally threaten to break him. While the odd moment – the burning girl, the ritualistic elements of the killer’s behaviour – are pretty extreme, the story avoids the gothic, and doesn’t dwell on horror for the sake of it. These are murder mysteries, but relatively serious ones.

Aside from a compelling story, ‘Wallander’ has two things going for it. Firstly, it’s got two brilliant central performances from Kenneth Branagh and David Warner as Wallander and his artist father. The battered emotion that Branagh brings to the detective anchors the series, while Warner matches him in their scenes together as an already temperamental old sod increasingly tested by old age.

The second element that puts Wallander ahead of other detective series is Sweden itself – probably more than anything else on TV, ‘Wallander’ would completely fail if the photography and lighting made it look like it was filmed on a Cardiff backlot. Instead, there’s a crisp Northern light to the exteriors, and a real sense of the harsh beauty of the Swedish landscape.

‘Wallander’ isn’t recommended for anyone who is looking for jolly escapism, but it’s as intelligent a detective drama as you’ll find in the British mainstream. The episodes are being stacked on the iPlayer for the duration of this run, so you can catch it online for the next couple of weeks if you miss the broadcasts.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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