With his rumpled raincoat, ever-present cigar, bumbling demeanour and Sherlock Holmesian powers of deduction, disarmingly polite homicide detective Lieutenant Columbo took on some of the most cunning murderers in Los Angeles, most of whom made one fatal, irrevocable mistake: underestimating his investigative genius.
The following refers to the 13 episodes of Season 2.
It sometimes seems as though the world is divided into two groups: those for whom subtitles pose no problem, and those for whom they do. If you fall in the former group, and you enjoy police-procedural dramas, then this series is for you. If you fall in the latter group, or if your comfort level plummets when you venture beyond BBC productions, then try the series with Kenneth Branagh and a supporting cast of English-speaking actors pretending to be Swedes - it's not as good, but it is in English.
I am a big fan of British police-procedural/detective series, and it was only because I was having trouble finding ones I had not seen that I turned to the Swedish-language "Wallander" series with Krister Henriksson in the lead role. I was impressed: it holds its own against the better British series.
Which actor you consider the definitive Kurt Wallander may depend on which version of the series you see first (assuming you see more than one). As much as I like Branagh and admire his work, he runs second to Henriksson in the Wallander Stakes. Indeed, the character of Wallander is not the same in the two series. The focus is much more on Wallander in the British series - a choice perhaps necessary to attract Branagh to the role - and he is portrayed as something of a loner, while in the Swedish version the members of Wallander's squad get significant screen time, and Wallander is portrayed more as an intelligent man with good instincts who is effective as a detective, a leader and a mentor. Branagh's Wallander is a man grappling with emotional issues, while Henriksson's comes across as reflective and world- weary but a man largely at peace with himself. I have not read the books on which the series is based, so I do not know which portrayal is truer to Mankell's character, but I do know I'd rather spend time with Henriksson's Wallander than with Branagh's.
The supporting cast is excellent, and, as indicated above, we are allowed to get to know their characters. The plots of the episodes held my attention, production values are high, and the locations and Swedish-speaking cast added to the verisimilitude. I especially liked how the relationship between Wallander and the prosecutor (an attractive divorcée who is also his neighbor) was handled. They are two adults of middle-age who develop feelings of mutual respect and affection (though they occasionally butt heads on the job), but their attraction is tempered by the baggage each carries from previous relationships. Their mating dance is cautious and restrained - very Scandinavian, one could say - and strikes just the right notes.
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