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Friday, 8 January 2010

Wallander, BBC1

Kurt Wallander is enjoying a meal in a restaurant with his daughter Linda and her new boyfriend Jamal, a doctor. After Jamal goes off to answer his phone, Linda seeks her father’s approval for her new beau. Kurt says how much he likes him. Too much. He betrays that instinctive paternal concern of his daughter fraternising with someone from an alien culture. And this seed of doubt that he might be racist infects the whole of his investigation into a double murder in the return of this brilliant detective series.

Wallander receives the call about the murders as the meal finishes, and he makes his excuses and leaves. It’s an exit he is glad to make as Wallander uses his job as a sanctuary from the discomforts of his personal life, whether it’s his sheepishness as his daughter snogs right in front of him or his senile father, to whom he is often called away from his latest case to take care of.

Kenneth Branagh is superb as the titular ’tec, getting across all of Wallander’s frustrations with the inert investigation as each frayed lead proves fruitless; the most solid of which is the last, blurred words of the murdered wife. Coloured by his latent discomfort of Jamal, he confides to his team that the wife may have murmured the word “foreigners” to identify her killers. This gets leaked by a na├»ve copper on Wallander’s team, and leads to a migrant worker being murdered in revenge for the farmer and his wife being slain. He is shot dead in one of the fields of corn that sway so elegantly in the bleak Scandinavian wind that they could appear on Strictly Come Dancing.

The latest murder skilfully makes solid and exacerbates Wallander’s guilt, enabling him to act in a reckless manner to prove he isn’t bigoted towards the local migrants who toil in the fields on the outskirts of town. After leaping into a burning caravan in the migrant settlement to rescue what he thinks is a baby, it’s a doll, he relentlessly keeps tabs on Bergmann, who is his only link to the migrant’s murder. Tracking him down to a motel, he gets into a shoot-out with Bergmann’s accomplice, killing him as he frantically reloaded the shotgun he’d used to murder the migrant worker.

And it’s Wallander’s virgin kill that forces him to confront his unease about what he thinks might be latent racism that’s indirectly caused two people to die. Dining on a pizza, forensics expert Nyberg reassures Wallander that it’s perfectly natural to be wary of other cultures – “It works both ways” – especially when it involves offspring.

This is the one small flaw with Wallander; it’s so centred on the protagonist that as soon as his anxieties and foibles are becalmed then much of the intrigue is sucked out with it. Visiting the bank the next day, Wallander realises how the farmer’s killer knew where he lived – they were standing behind him in the queue and read his receipt over his shoulder.

Although it doesn’t soothe Wallander’s lingering angst, it turns out the killers were foreign, migrant workers working on the dodgems of a touring fairground, and one short, bloodless chase later they’re both in custody. Like the killer of the migrant – a nationalist who murdered for racist motives – their compulsion to murder was for the banal sin of avarice. But this lack of depth in the miscreants is more than compensated by the complexity and charisma of Branagh’s lead, and makes Wallander one of the true masterpieces of British television.

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