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Wallander reduces TV cops to recognizable types in conflict with themselves

Dave Masko's picture

During last night’s first episode of the “Wallander III” series on Masterpiece Mystery, fans were reintroduced to a TV cop who they recognize is in conflict with himself.

Whether its Inspector Kurt Wallander dealing with a murderer or not - during the Sept. 9 premiere of “Wallander III” episode titled “An Event in Autumn” - one thing is for sure; Sir Kenneth Branagh, 51, is considered to be one of the world’s great Shakespearian actors. In turn, reaction to this new “Masterpiece Mystery” offering on PBS includes such rave reviews as “Branagh really nails the character of Wallander” writes one fan on Twitter. In turn, Branagh returns to his role of “Wallander” after starring in the opening segment of the recent 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London. Branagh, who has been awarded a knighthood by the Queen of England for his service to country in the dramatic arts, portrayed “Isambard Kingdom Brunel” during the Olympics opening when he gave a very moving and well received speech from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

In turn, his Olympic oratory sounded a lot like many of Branagh's long-winded speeches as Inspector Kurt Wallander who is hard-wired to respond to crime by those who commit unspeakable acts of violence up in the icy north regions of Sweden.

“Wallander’s” Branagh an actor’s actor

Branagh, 51, seems to relish in the world’s oldest art form – story telling and acting – that he does with lots of grit as Wallander; that based on Swedish writer Henning Mankell’s bestselling Wallander crime novels about a flawed detective who is not all well both mentally and physically.

In fact, fans say “it’s difficult to separate Branagh the classic Shakespearean actor from his current role on PBS as Wallander.” Thus, it’s no surprise that while the Wallander III series premiered on Masterpiece Sunday night – with Branagh also serving as the show’s boss, or executive producer – he was also playing the title role in BBC radio broadcasts of Hamlet, or playing the role of Edmund in Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

Branagh is also best known for directing and starring in several film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays including “Henry V,” for which he earned both an Oscar nomination for best actor and best director; while also starring in the film versions of “Othello,” “Hamlet” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” and “As You Like It.”

Walander is really Shakespeare for TV

There’s good reason why the PBS “Masterpiece” TV crime series “Wallander” is unlike most other cop shows on American TV – that’s because, says Branagh in a marketing plug for this show he also produces, is “a form of Shakespeare story telling.”

Thus, this Shakespearean actor and director portrays Wallander – in the series third season episode “An Event in Autumn” - with the same cause-and-effect relationships that Shakespeare established in which artists give order to the material they’re acting.

There’s even a scene in this An Event in Autumn episode – that aired Sept. 9 and will be repeated on PBS this week – where Wallander seems very much like a Shakespeare character when he appears bowed down with unutterable burdens that all police detectives must face when dealing with the evil that men do.

For instance, episode An Event in Autumn refreshes the character of Wallander – as a good work of literature – with all the elements that combine to create orderly patterns, characters that seem to be both real and recognizable, and an overall suspense that makes Wallander stand out from other TV cop shows because it features Wallender being fully human and in conflict with himself.

So such realism, say fans of the series, makes for great TV because “Branagh somehow reels us in to his world.”

Branagh gives Wallender structure

After earning five Academy Award and five Golden Globe nominations for his acting; as well as winning best actor Emmy and British Academy awards, Branagh is at the top of his game as this somewhat fragile character Inspector Kurt Wallander.

For example, TV critics write how “there’s no crime fighter on television today” with the same dull throb of grief in his eyes as the great Shakespearian stage actor Branagh who must deal – as Detective Kurt Wallander - with almost unspeakable horror in the icy regions of Sweden in modern day.

For instance, Wallander is quoted during this recent first episode of the third season of the series saying: “These are our lives. And they’re fragile. Precarious. Miraculous. They’re all we have.”

First Wallander episode creates feeling of real life

At the same time, Sunday’s first episode of “Wallander III” titled “An Event in Autumn” reveals even more brutal crimes that seem to stir-up the “demons inside Wallander.”

And, we are faced with a very ill detective with Wallander suffering from mental and physical exhaustion as well as both diabetes and developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Thus, the official “Masterpiece” biography for this fictional Wallander character has Branagh portraying someone who is frequently at loose ends socially and emotionally with his family.

For instance, after the breakup of his marriage – both Wallander’s and in real-life for Branagh – he has a sort of mental and physical breakdown that Branagh says in real-life can happen to “method actors” such as himself.

Thus, Branagh said in recent interviews how he’s worried about Wallander “taking its toll on me, the actor and the man.”

This first episode of “Wallander III” also offers more cause-and-effect relationships for the Swedish cop; while new conflicts and crimes are introduced and then resolved with fans now second-guessing did Wallander really win or lose?

The Wallander Series III on “Masterpiece Mystery” that aired Sunday, Sept. 9 at 9/8c., will be repeated this week, with PBS advising fans to check local listings. In turn, Wallander returns again each Sunday during September with new episodes in this series three that’s already aired in England where Branagh is now working on series four that's set to air on PBS sometime in 2013.

Image source of Kenneth Branagh explaining his acting craft. Branagh currently stars in the PBS “Masterpiece Mystery” series "Wallender" that airs on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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