Tune in, switch off - Wrap up with Wallander

15th January 2010 at 00:00

There is something rather appealing about watching others battling snowy wastes when you have just been scraping ice off the car. So, safely warmed by a log fire, I shut out the weather by watching Wallander (BBC One), a gripping adaptation of Henning Mankell's novels.

The crumpled detective, played by Kenneth Branagh, spends most of his time crossing the flat, seemingly endless, Swedish landscape as if in a Volvo advert. Shot on location in Ystad, this gloom-filled morass is miles of tarmac and acres of sky - like Norfolk and the Fens. All that snow and not even a decent ski resort in sight.

But in truth, this new series is set in what passes there for summer. So that sky came with corn-filled fields, a real but symbolically slaughtered white horse and a sense of evil that oozed out of the TV set, almost extinguishing my fire.

Branagh, stubble-chinned and double-chinned, admits to feeling and looking a changed man at the end of filming, as the ghosts of the country get into his blood. If Wallander was one of your pupils, you would whisk him off for counselling at first sight of those large pleading eyes and that furrowed, burrowed grimace.

But once fixed - fixated even - on a crime, Wallander stays with his prey. "This is mine. It started with me. This is where it will end," he declaimed, with a determination matched only by his inner doubt. There was plenty of anguished questioning and slow exploration as he moved at the speed of the Eurostar in the wrong kind of snow. But when the shots were called, he fired them.

Perhaps there is something in the furniture varnish in this land of self-assembly flatpacks; or maybe it's having to repeatedly rescue his delusional dad (David Warner), who was dancing around a bonfire in his pyjamas. I reckon Wallander's special subjects on Mastermind would be misery and beating yourself up.

The double murder he was investigating was no health cure either. An elderly couple were attacked in their own home in a scene that could have been a Crimewatch reconstruction. Wallander was there in time to catch the old woman's denunciation of the culprits as "fs". He wondered if she had said "foreigners". I would have guessed differently. It sounded like the kind of language I would exclude for.

Disapproving of his daughter dating a Syrian (another f), he inadvertently triggered a racist media story that had the right-wing xenophobes reaching for their guns. Several murders later, including a dramatic killing by Wallander himself, the criminals were revealed as both foreigners and fairground workers. Did that make Wallander a racist or just good at crosswords?

This is what we might have to get used to if there is a change of government, as shadow education secretary Michael Gove plans to introduce elements of the Swedish education system here. We would soon know how easy his Ikea, do-it-yourself version of schools would be to assemble. But given the quality of the writing in Wallander, I think I would just stick to putting a Mankell novel on the literature syllabus.

Ray Tarleton is principal of South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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