This final set of three 90 minutes films are the hardest of the English-language interpretation to appreciate. Kurt Wallander has been brought to the screen by three different actors. If you prefer either of the Scandinavian versions to Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of the Swedish detective then you definitely won’t enjoy this one. If, however, you’re a fan of Branagh’s acting and have enjoyed the three previous BBC series, then these are worth watching – not just for a sense of completion, but because they artfully portray the sense of bleak poignancy that sums up the end of Wallander’s career. These three stories are barely ‘criminal investigations’ at all. Instead they are a subtle exploration of coming to terms with morality, captured in a nuanced and moving performance from KB and enhanced by some stunning cinematography and a haunting, melancholic soundtrack.
‘The White Lioness’ is the weakest of the trio. It removes the central character from his natural environment and the glaring, scorched wasteland of South African slums is at odds with the series’ themes. The plot feels clumsily outdated too: local (black) detectives can’t solve a missing persons / murder case, so in comes the white man, with no local knowledge whatsoever, to magically save the day. It also portrays African society, politics and the police as inevitably corrupt and inefficient. These clichés are not comfortable viewing.
The other two episodes are much, much stronger and see Wallander back on home turf, struggling through confusion and denial firstly to find a missing girl and then secondly to resolve a much older mystery, close to home. You need to watch them in order as the two storylines do overlap (so don’t be surprised when you can’t figure out a couple of scenes in ‘A Lesson In Love.’ All is revealed next time around).
Alzheimer’s disease is a difficult subject to accurately portray and Branagh handles it with sensitivity – but it’s not easy viewing. The dramatic purpose of this storyline is to show how a man who has relied upon his intuition and intellect to make incisive, revelatory leaps of detection, subsequently shrinks in stature and capability. In TV-land, it all happens quite quickly which gives it all the more emotional impact, especially when set against the windswept seascapes of southern Sweden.
Amid all that back-story, ‘The Troubled Man’ also tells a ripping yarn, of Cold War politics and espionage which erupts into present day betrayal and brutality. It’s easily the best of the three films; often stark in its depiction of human isolation. For instance, Wallander overhears a grieving woman, alone and sobbing uncontrollably. He starts to walk towards her room… stops, and turns away. No dialogue. No judgment. Just a beautiful, quiet performance.
I think that if you’re going to enjoy these final films then you’ll need to have watched all the earlier Branagh episodes, to have come to terms with this depiction of the character. Like I say, Scandi crime enthusiasts probably won’t find much to appreciate here and will stick with Henriksson and Lassgard. But there are depths to Branagh’s interpretation of Mankell’s creation which are worthy of exploration and appreciation.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The three films of Wallander Season 4 are available on DVD and Blu-ray, or to stream by episode