Review: Wallander (Episode 5 – The Man Who Smiled – BBC)


Opening with a near monochrome landscape – an old man is driving through desolate terrain. He stops at what appears to be a hooded figure on a deserted road.

Next it cuts to Wallander who is living alone in a B&B on the coast. Addicted to prescription drugs, he’s struggling to come to terms with the man he killed last time. He’s left the police and cut himself off from his old life.

He then has a visitor who comes out to him on the beach. It appears to be an old friend, asking for help. His father was murdered (the old guy driving up the mountain). Wallander says no, he’s not ready; he can’t help.

At last Wallander returns to Ystad, making his way to the police station. Confused and awkward, the commander spots him. They chat and he learns that the guy coming to seek help from him is now dead, like his father. Wallander decides it’s time to return to policing.

This is a slow episode, plot-wise. It’s much more focused on Wallander and his deterioration than it is on the murders. Wallander visits his father who is now in a care home. His daughter Linda is also there. He hasn’t seen his family for a long time (we don’t know how long). The dysfunctional relationship he has with his family is brought into sharp relief.

The plot line then gets back on track. It transpires that it’s about the illicit sale of body parts. Plot-wise this isn’t a strong episode but that doesn’t detract from the drama itself which is very good and I’m still thoroughly enjoying it.

Overview of Wallander on the BBC

Review: Wallander (Episode 4 – Faceless Killers – BBC)

I enjoyed Wallander which returned to our screens this evening.

From the stylized opening credits and background music, this instantly feels different to the common or garden crime drama we usually get on our TV. Of course, the key difference is that it’s set in Sweden and that it is in fact a Swedish crime thriller based on the novels of Henrik Mankell, but filmed by the BBC in English with an all-English cast – in Sweden.

This is genuinely a welcome breath of fresh air that stands apart from the usual menu of British and American crime dramas we get served up on television. The landscape is bleak and raw (think Fargo). The people and their mentality are rather different (Scandinavian – instilled with a latent melancholia).

Kenneth Branagh is well suited to playing the part of Kurt Wallander. He carries off very well the grizzled, manic, driven man which the character calls for. And he represents flawed humanity. For he really isn’t a great father to his daughter, Linda. He shuts her out and finds it very hard to connect with her, to communicate with her. And yes, he’s sort of there for his ageing, dementia-ridden father. But he could do more. A lot more. Only, he doesn’t and he won’t, because his job is the most important thing in his life. His family are incidental.

This episode’s plot followed the standard format. A violent murder is looming. A stallion stirs uneasily in its stable as killers we can’t see make their way into the farmhouse. The owners turn to look, seeing their killers head on – instantly cognisant of the violence that will ensue.

When Wallander gets to the scene the man is dead and the elderly woman is in the final throes of death. He tries to get information from her but she is able to say only one word. He doesn’t know if this word is ‘fair’ or ‘foreigner’. From early on, the possibility of ‘foreign killers’ looms large. Mankell, in his novel and thus in the drama, is tapping into Europeans’ inherent fear of foreigners. Those migrants who come to this continent to work. He plays on it.

And it becomes more complex when we learn that Linda, Wallander’s daughter, is dating a young Syrian doctor. Wallander is torn. Torn between a loyalty to his daughter that plays down and over compensates against any evidence that it may be a foreigner – but also torn by a common sense acknowledgement of the facts which, as his colleagues strongly believe, point the finger toward foreigners.

I won’t say too much more about this episode as some won’t have seen it. I like the fact it was quite… non standard (re: the plot line) and that the killers’ identify is actually rather secondary to other elements explored in the episode, i.e. his father and his worsening dementia, our latent attitude toward other races, the far right and their ‘pay back’, and the internal police leak – the traitor in their midst.

It was what I expected – a drama with very high production values, slick cinematography and a dark, twisted plot line that acts, ultimately, as a canvas on which to eke out Mankell’s own dark visions of the human condition.

More Wallander stuff that I find interesting:

An interview Kenneth Branagh recently gave on Swedish radio

An interview he gave on BBC radio, part 1:

Part 2

Overview of Wallander on the BBC

The one to watch: Wallander (BBC1 / Kenneth Branagh)


UPDATED: Review of Faceless Killers here.

Early last year the BBC aired three film length episodes of Swedish crime drama Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh as Swedish detective Kurt Wallander. It was very, very good as I said at the time. And this said from someone who rarely watches crime drama.

The cinematography was especially good and I really enjoyed the very dark plot lines. In short, it was ‘must watch’ TV for me.

So I’m very pleased to see that the BBC have made 3 more feature length episodes, the first of which starts tonight on BBC1 at 9pm.


Sunday 03 January
9:00pm – 10:30pmBBC1

1/3 – Faceless Killers

Wheat fields wave in the breeze, a frenzied stallion gallops down a dark road and an unhappy Swedish detective stares bleary-eyed into the bleak middle distance, his soul lost in torment. Yes, it could only be Ingmar Bergman meets Midsomer Murders – Wallander. After a brief, Bafta-winning series last year, Kurt Wallander (a mesmerising Kenneth Branagh) returns, still dishevelled, unshaven and a little grubby, in another polished adaptation of a Henning Mankell story. In Faceless Killers, Wallander is called to a remote farmhouse where an elderly couple have been tortured and murdered. With her dying breath the woman whispers a word loaded with significance; if it gets out, it could have fearful repercussions for Sweden’s delicate race relations. As tensions simmer, Wallander has personal matters to attend to. His ailing father (brilliant David Warner) is in the grip of dementia and needs constant care, and Wallander’s wet daughter has a new boyfriend he’s not keen on. It’s gripping stuff, even though Wallander’s constant striving to invest every single frame of film with significance can be distracting.

Radio Times reviewer – Alison Graham

Source: Radio Times

More info on the BBC website.