Friday 23 March 2018

Wallander goes AWOL in sunny South Africa

Kenneth Brannagh in Wallander.
Kenneth Brannagh in Wallander.

John Boland

Back for a final three-part season, Kenneth Branagh's Wallander (BBC1) entirely lost the plot in this week's opening instalment by sending its morose detective to South Africa.

He was there to make a speech at a police conference but when a Swedish expatriate woman went missing, he ended up careering around the countryside before solving the mystery himself and nailing the perpetrators.

There was a potentially interesting plot strand about corruption in high governmental places, but that went for nothing as our hero wandered alone through dodgy townships and narrowly missed death on a few occasions. Meanwhile, the local cops mainly just let him get on with it.

I'm spoiled, of course, by the Swedish TV adaptations of Henning Mankell's crime novels, which starred the unfussy but compellingly watchable Krister Henriksson, who was heartbreakingly good as Wallander developed Alzheimer's in the final season.

But even without those adaptations as a yardstick, the Branagh version is fatally dull and listless, the actor himself seeming as if he's just going through the motions and the characters never persuading you that they're Scandinavian. I'll be giving the next two episodes a miss.

Branagh has also played Richard III, a role made famous by Laurence Olivier, and most recently inhabited by Benedict Cumberbatch, who featured as the baleful monarch in the just-ended season of The Hollow Crown (BBC2), based on Shakespeare's history plays.

There was always a touch of the heroic in any of Olivier's classic performances, but Cumberbatch offered no such consolations - his character as deformed on the inside as his body, and with extra layers of bile and evil. Judi Dench and Keeley Hawes were among the fine supporting players.

In general, this season of The Hollow Crown hasn't been as impressive as the last, but Cumberbatch single-handedly lifted it on to another, if quite disconcerting, level.

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