Wallander was the Swedish TV series that ignited the mania for Nordic Noir in the UK, to the extent that even people who still have no taste for subtitled European drama will have experienced its influence via the likes of the massively popular Broadchurch; even Midsummer Murders went off and did an episode in Denmark recently.
But Wallander was the original. Initially just two episodes of the Swedish series were aired on BBC4 in 2008 as part of the PR campaign supporting a prestigious British adaptation of three of Henning Mankell’s detective novels, with Sir Kenneth Branagh taking the lead role and then little-known Tom Hiddleston as one of the supporting regulars. The UK series was popular enough, but it was the Swedish shows that got a lot of interest from viewers asking for more, and so the BBC eventually bought all 13 episodes of the first series to show on Saturday nights; and a phenomenon was born.
And now it’s coming to an end. The third season of Wallander currently airing in the UK is to be the last – that’s the condition that series star Krister Henriksson laid down before he agreed to return. The reduced six-part run has an overarching storyline to ensure just that as Wallander shows increasing signs of a progressive memory loss issue, which start in the first episode when he leaves his police-issue sidearm in a bar leading everyone to assume he’d been drunk. In fact the truth is much worse.
A sense of melancholy hangs over this final run of episodes, then, with the effects of his illness becoming ever more problematic for Wallander. The part is played to exquisite perfection by Henriksson who is just such a master of aching understatement wherein every look, every twitch reveals an infinite depth of regret and sadness while at the same time it’s believably kept from his colleagues and family. Chief among them is daughter Linda played by Charlotta Jonsson, the first time that the character has been on TV since the first season was shot in 2006 after which the original actress playing the part – Johanna Sällström – tragically died from an overdose, adding yet another layer of sadness to this final run.
I loved the first season of Wallander but found the second (which was transmitted in 2010) to be rather disappointing, perhaps because newer and shinier Nordic Noir offerings had come along by then, but I think mainly because the writing felt formulaic and just a little lazy. It ended up being little more than a very average episode of Inspector Morse.
Fortunately this final run is back to its best and very strong, partly because of that overarching storyline but also because the individual cases are very well written, easily as good as anything the series has done. Admittedly the first felt a little odd – venturing into Swedish political history of the 1980s relating to foreign submarines encroaching into territorial waters during the Cold War – but that’s because it was an adaptation of “The Troubled Man”, the final novel written by Mankell featuring Wallander.
The remaining episodes are all new stories, beginning with “Missing” in which the disappearance of a young schoolgirl makes Wallander realise how badly he botched a similar case ten years previously; “The Betrayal” sees the estranged wife of a prominent business speaker murdered in her home, and the case is not as straightforward as it initially appears; and finally “The Loss” has Wallander travel to Moldova to identify a prostitute found dead and in pieces in a landfill in Ystad.
There are two more feature-length instalments to come (“The Arsonist” and “The Sad Bird”) and then that’s it, the end of Wallander – although I hope it’s not also the last time we see the brilliant Krister Henriksson on our screens in the UK. Even so it’ll be a sad moment to close the book on this crucial strand of Nordic Noir and I’m sure a tear or two will be shed when the moment comes.
Meanwhile if you haven’t tried the series yet, do try and find a boxset of series 1 and work your way from there, and you’ll find a lot of very classy drama waiting for you.
The final series of Wallander is airing on BBC4 on Saturdays at 9pm until June 21 2014. The final run of episodes will be released on DVD by Arrow Films on June 23 2014, and boxsets of other series starring Henriksson as well as the Branagh versions and earlier Swedish movie adaptations of Mankell’s novels starring Rolf Lassgård are also available.