(2entertain) Out 21 June
Was it worth the wait for the final series? Find out in our review!
Was Sir Kenneth Branagh personally responsible for the rise of Nordic Noir? Not exactly, but he played a major role in the Scandinavian crime boom when, in 2008, he introduced viewers to melancholy Swedish detective Kurt Wallander. While Henning Mankell’s majestic novels already had a devoted readership, Branagh put Ystad in southern Sweden on the map with his atmospheric English language adaptation and Bafta-winning performance.
Eight years later, Branagh is back – along with the detective’s irritating ringtone – for the fourth and final series of the BBC drama. However, we now live in a world of Walter Presents and its online curation of foreign drama, as well as routine Saturday night subtitles on BBC4’S crime imports and a primetime hit for Channel 4 with the German-language Deutschland 83. Having left a four-year gap between series, perhaps Branagh risked confusing a TV audience that now expects to hear Swedish characters actually speaking Swedish.
Scandi-crime snobs will no doubt insist that they prefer the two Swedish versions of Wallander (starring Krister Henriksson and Rolf Lassgård), though it would be a mistake to overlook Branagh’s achievement in the feature-length adaps that have always been faithful to the books. With no more novels left to film, he has sensibly decided to call it a day.
As Mankell’s readers will know, The Troubled Man is an upsetting literary finale, and Branagh doesn’t flinch when it comes to portraying a man forced to confront mortality in middle-age. But there are a few more cases for Kurt, starting with a trip to Cape Town for the opening film based on the third book, The White Lioness. He’s supposed to be speaking about police work at a conference, when the real thing takes over: a case involving a Swedish expat whose wife’s gone missing.
Paired with a local officer, Grace Mthembu (Bonnie Henna), Wallander dodges bullets in a shantytown and uncovers a plot involving a political assassination. The pale policeman may be wilting in the South African heat, yet his detective skills are still
top-notch: he finds a lead by managing to get lost just like the missing woman, then solves the case by recognising the distinctive call of a peacock. It has to be said, the motive for murder is never adequately established – something vague about profiteering and corruption – but the Western Cape is a dramatic backdrop to Wallander’s impromptu, unofficial investigation.
If anything, the forests, beaches and lakes of the filming locations in Sweden and Denmark – shot overhead by director Benjamin Caron, and set to a sonorous soundtrack – look even more stunning than South Africa. Again, the mysteries in the final two episodes (both based on The Troubled Man) are not particularly knotty – and Wallander’s colleagues don’t really have much to do. But Branagh’s immersion into this anguished detective makes for a mesmerising, emotional performance that merits further awards recognition.
As he tries to make sense of his fading health, Wallander’s tasked with investigating the murder of a woman and the disappearance of her teenage daughter. A rowdy biker gang is connected with the case – a fairly obvious plot distraction – until the solution ultimately lands in his lap. He even has time to enjoy a romantic interlude with an old flame, though happiness is always fleeting for this lonely Swedish detective.
The final Wallander is an elegiac, sometimes harrowing, episode in which the ailing detective faces a race against time to find the missing father-in-law of his daughter, Linda (Jeany Spark), while he’s still physically capable of conducting an investigation. Having been suspended for a mishap with a firearm, Wallander’s free to revisit the intrigue and treachery of the Cold War, and the 30-year-old secrets he uncovers might explain the disappearance of former submarine commander Hakan von Enke (Terrence Hardiman, probably still best known as The Demon Headmaster).
Trying to protect his family is the strongest possible motive for the detective to keep on hunting for clues, while coping with obvious ill health in this compelling conclusion. Branagh’s decision to bring him back will more than satisfy fans, though it’s still hard to accept it really is Wallander’s last case.
“BRANAGH DOESN’T FLINCH IN PORTRAYING A MAN FORCED TO CONFRONT MORTALITY”
Kurt Wallander (Sir Kenneth Branagh) chases loose ends as his health declines.
South African Bonnie Henna plays local officer Gracemthembu.