A 4×4 rolls along a country road through golden wheat fields. It could easily be Southern Sweden, Kurt Wallander’s usual domain. But as the scene develops we see gnarled up thorn trees peppering the roadside, squared-off derelict farm buildings, fallen-down water-pump windmills and the reddish dirt of what must be an African setting.
The Swedish woman driving seems lost and disoriented so she pulls into a farmstead and calls a tentative “Hello?” A shot is fired in the distance, and she creeps into a filthy room where a young black man is chopping meat. He raises his cleaver slightly, and steps towards her…
So begins Wallander series 4 episode 1 – the English language version of the programme with Kenneth Branagh playing the legendary detective created by the late Henning Mankell.
Wallander is a long way from Ystad, his usual stomping ground. He’s attending a law and order conference in South Africa of all places. Something has clearly gone wrong for the Swedish woman lost on that lonely highway because Wallander is pulled from the conference by the local police and asked to go and reassure the woman’s husband, who is ranting and raving because no progress has been made investigating her disappearance.
Before long, Wallander is embroiled in the case, teaming up with young black detective Grace Mthembu (Bonnie Mbuli). At first they suspect the husband, Axel Hedeman (Alex Ferns), who works on a charity mission reaching out to impoverished youths – including gang members. Could the murder have echoes of the real life Anni Dewani case, when a husband was accused of hiring a gang to kill his new wife? After all, Hedeman has a temper, and a criminal record back in Sweden.
What unfolds is even more intriguing, and sees Wallander tracking down a gangster in the notorious Cape Flats, getting kidnapped from his plush hotel room, and even chasing down a white hitman. And the backdrop to it all is an important election with the ANC candidate promising housing for the people.
A poll held recently by Crime Fiction Lover found that most viewers prefer Krister Henriksson’s rendition of Wallander (45%), with Branagh coming a close second (43%). He has all of Henriksson’s calm and quiet determination, but there’s a softer assuredness to Branagh’s performance while the Swede plays the role with a touch more introspection and intensity.
As well as being wonderfully gripping, Wallander series 4 episode 1 uses the Cape Town setting to wonderful effect. When Wallander first appears, he’s jogging along the top of Table Mountain. Soon he’s out in the Western Cape, which is beautifully shot, the arid expanse breaking to rocky hills on the horizon. The corrugated jungle of poverty that is the Cape Flats is juxtaposed with the walled and gated wealth of Stellenbosch, where Wallander and Mthembu visit the justice minister.
To begin with, it’s hard to believe Wallander and the other Swedes are actually Swedish, but you’ll soon forget their Englishness as the 90-minute episode pulls you into an exploration corruption and crime in today’s South Africa. It’s loosely based on the novel The White Lioness, which Henning Mankell wrote in 1992. The politics are a bit different, but one gory similarity with the book is that severed fingers provide Wallander with an early lead.
Next week BBC One will be airing Lesson in Love, and the following Sunday we’ll get to see The Troubled Man, based on the 2009 novel.
Written by James Dormer, based on the novel by Henning Mankell
Directed by Benjamin Caron
Did you tune in for Wallander series 4 episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Wallander series 4 episode 2? Read Garrick’s review of episode 1 here.
Just like the first episode in Wallander season 4, the second episode starts on an open road. But it’s not a 4×4 in a hot, African setting this time. Instead, it’s a motorbike cutting through a cold, Swedish mist on the road to Ystad.
Then we cut to the cobbled streets of the town where Kenneth Branagh’s Kurt Wallander ambles along towards a carpark. Unsure just which car is his, he presses the button on his key fob and his trusty Volvo bleeps to life. Suddenly, a motorcycle roars into the picture, Wallander is struck by a man from behind and then kicked on the ground by three leather-clad thugs.
Wallander tries to brush aside his bruised ribs, the cut behind his ear and the shock of it all by arriving at work the next morning to join a police search. The missing pensioner is soon located, but so is someone else. Middle-aged Erica Hjelmqvist’s body is found face down in a puddle with two stab wounds.
She too, it turns out, had trouble with bikers. The Hjemqvists had rented a farm to a biker gang, who are now using it as their HQ and are refusing to quit the property. Wallander visits the farm and is quickly threatened by head of the gang, Gustav Erickson (Clive Wood). A search turns up a knife covered in Erica Hjelmqvist’s blood and fingerprints belonging to the man’s son, Pontus (Hugh Mitchell). When interrogated, Pontus sits in silence. He won’t say a word about the dead woman, nor her missing daughter.
The episode is entitled A Lesson in Love, and is partly based on Henning Mankell’s last Wallander novel, The Troubled Man. It is beautifully shot, the producers making the most of the 100 million kronor budget with some stunning aerial shots of the lonely Swedish roads that carve across the Skåne countryside, sun breaking through autumnal clouds, and lots of rainy windows obscuring Wallander’s troubled countenance.
Kenneth Branagh always brings a warmth and gravity to his Wallander, and his light side shows through most clearly in scenes with his daughter Linda (Jenny Spark) and granddaughter Klara (Kitty Peterkin). It’s lovely too – for Wallander especially – that Baiba Leipa (Ingeborga Dapunaite) makes a return to Ystad. She’s the widowed Latvian from that fantastic Wallander story The Dogs of Riga.
The case itself, like much of the atmospheric photography, falls out of focus for long spells during this 90-minute piece. Wallander keeps seeing bikers. He looks out a window and someone disappears into the shadows, and he thinks his car and home have been broken into. It’s as though he’s being followed. Worse still, at crucial moments he just fades out, losing concentration or feeling dizzy.
Kenneth Branagh conveys Wallander’s confusion well enough, but perhaps there isn’t quite enough worry there considering what’s happening. The murder case itself is quite easy to figure out, but the attack on Wallander and the repeated appearance of the bikers are never explained. Perhaps that will come in the final episode next week, entitled The Troubled Man.
Written by Peter Harness
Directed by Benjamin Caron
Did you tune in for Wallander series 4 episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Wallander series 4 episode 3? Read Garrick’s review of episode 2 here.
Wallander series 4 episode 3 – ‘The Troubled Man’, based on the book of the same title – is the last case for Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander. And troubled he is. The dizzy episodes and disorientation he was experiencing in episode two of the series have continued and the programme begins with his doctor urging him to reveal his Alzheimer’s diagnosis to his family.
Kurt psyches himself up as best he can, practicing his speech alone at home. But when his daughter Linda (Jenny Spark) arrives in a worried state, he can’t bring himself to tell her. Linda’s problem is more serious – her father-in-law, Håkan von Enke (Terrence Hardiman), has disappeared. She wants Kurt to go up north and, although he’s currently suspended, look into what’s happened to the retired naval commander.
Clues start turning up right away. When Wallander searches Håkan’s desk, he finds a tape recording of the man being interviewed about an incident involving enemy submarines in Swedish waters back in the 1980s. Then Wallander discovers that Håkan and his wife Louise (Ann Bell) had a child nobody knew about. More than that, he suspects one of them may have been a Soviet spy. When Louise is found hanged his fears turn to who could be next. Are his daughter Linda and granddaughter Klara in danger?
With its building tension, a touch of espionage, political intrigue and a growing sense of melancholy, this is the best episode of the current season and a fitting conclusion to the entire series. The climax, in a rusty old beached submarine, is tense and darkly textured, ending with a dramatic twist that goes right back to Kurt’s other problem. His greatest asset – his mind – is under attack.
Throughout, he fights to stay on track. At best, his thoughts will wander a little. At worst – like when he confronts his son-in-law Hans (Harry Hadden-Paton) over financial irregularities – he goes from being an angry interrogator to a confused man in a stupor, and has an altercation with the window blinds.
And there are some wonderful reflections on matters past and present too. When he finally reveals to Linda that he has Alzheimer’s, he explains that he has six or seven years left. “What was I doing seven years ago?” he asks. “Drinking red wine and falling asleep in your chair,” she replies. “Looking after granddad,” he retorts, recalling that his father had the same condition. “I saw a 15-year-old girl set herself on fire in a rape field. That’s something I could do with forgetting.”
Fans of Wallander will be reminded of ‘Sidetracked’, Branagh’s very first case in the role, back in 2008.
Later, we see just how fractured his investigative procedure has become. “Try and be methodical,” he tells himself as he pulls bits of crumpled notepaper out of his pockets, smoothes them all out and assembles them on his desk in a bizarre proxy of the case whiteboard we’re so used to in police procedurals.
This is another beautifully shot episode. Trees reflected in dark lake waters, windswept coastlines, rocky fishing villages, and purple Scandinavian nights set a visual tone made more disconcerting by edgy, percussive music, with straining strings and a few sad piano notes. The atmosphere, together with an intriguing plot, mean that of the three episodes in the final season of Wallander, this is the one you’ll want to watch over again.
Written by Peter Harness
Directed by Benjamin Caron
Did you tune in for Wallander series 4 episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!