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Wallander series 4 episode 1 review

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.

Wallander series 4 episode 1

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

Garrick Webster

Garrick Webster is the co-founder of the Crime Fiction Lover website and enjoys the work of James Ellroy, Nordic crime writers and almost any other good noir-ish mysteries. By day he is a journalist, editor and copywriter.

Follow Crime Fiction Lover on Twitter.

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