Dear Whoever Decides These Things:
Please may we have Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander forever and ever?
I know there’s a well-received Swedish TV series that starred Swedish actor Krister Henriksson as Wallander, but I can’t believe he’s better than Kenneth Branagh. And that’s saying something, for I did not always feel this way.
Series I of Wallander didn’t overwhelm me and I approached series II with ambivalence, wooed back largely because of the fantastic David Warner, who played Wallander’s father Povel and whom I’ve watched since the 1979 film Time After Time (and will always adore because of 1981’s Time Bandits).
By the end of Wallander series II, however, things had jelled. And in “An Event in Autumn,” the first of three episodes in Wallander series III now airing on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery, Kenneth Branagh so fully embodies the Ystad detective that I feel foolish for ever doubting him.
“An Event in Autumn,” based on a Henning Mankell short story and dramatized by Peter Harness, picks up a few years after “The Fifth Woman,” the final episode of series II. Against all logical expectations, we find Wallander moving with his companion, Vanja Andersson (Saskia Reeves), to a peaceful farmhouse in the countryside near Ystad. (Watch for the landscape painting of birch trees, painted by Povel Wallander, hanging on the wall in the background.) Vanja’s young son Peter and a black lab named Jussi complete a picture of domestic bliss so tangible that Wallander actually . . . wait for it . . . smiles when he turns into the driveway on his way home.
Could this be our man? The newly mellowed Wallander?
Oh, of course not. Don’t be silly.
In the opening scenes we already witnessed a frightened young woman plunge to her death from the deck of a ferry traveling from Poland to Sweden, and we have every reason to think foul play was involved.
Then when Jussi the dog digs in the black currant bushes outside Wallander’s house and comes up with a human jawbone, well, we’re right back where we expected to be—with Wallander confronting crime on his doorstep and his colleagues wondering why he insists on taking his work home with him. (You can laugh at that; it’s a joke.)
You can almost see the little rain cloud swooping into the scene to hover over Wallander’s head once more, and even that charming farmhouse in beautiful southern Sweden takes on a sinister look.
Gentle viewers be warned: that opening disclaimer about scenes not being suitable for everyone is certainly applicable for this episode. You might find a couple of things here quite upsetting. That’s part of the bluntness that characterizes this series.
In his BBC TV blog series writer Peter Harness describes “An Event in Autumn” as “probably the bleakest Wallander yet.” I’m not sure I’d go that far. I found the relentless gloom in some of the early episodes downright exhausting. This one was more poignant.
Most episodes of Wallander have a heartbreaking quality. This time it comes from the fact that there is a genuine sense of peace in the early scenes of Wallander at home with Vanja and Peter. He has evolved; it’s apparent from the lack of pain in his face, and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy, especially after the emotional anguish he endured in series II. So now, as he’s inevitably sucked back into the investigation of a brutal crime and back into those self-destructive habits he cannot shake, it hurts him—and it hurts us to watch him.
Saskia Reeves as Vanja is wonderful as she always is. A nod of appreciation also has to go to Con O’Neill, who did a pretty creepy turn in the “Fearful Symmetry” episode of Inspector Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery a few weeks ago, and who manages to be even more loathsome in “An Event in Autumn” as Jan Petrus, the lowlife procurer who pimps his own daughters.
But in the end, the series belongs to Kenneth Branagh, whose completely ingenuous delivery of the line: “I’m basically quite a cheerful person,” was perfection.
David Suchet has linked himself with Hercule Poirot indelibly for all time. John Thaw will forever be Morse. Kenneth Branagh won’t only be Wallander, but if he wanted to always be Wallander I would heartily approve that decision.
See more Wallander content on Criminal Element.
Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.