Wallander: The Secret (2006)

aka Mankell’s Wallander: Hemligheten

2010 #12
Stephan Apelgren | 90 mins | TV | 15

The third theatrical release to star Krister Henriksson as Henning Mankell’s detective is the thirteenth and final episode in the first series. It has a suitably Season Finale feel to it — “this time it’s personal” and all that — but also subtly constructs itself to work as the standalone piece necessary for a theatrical release schedule that skipped six whole episodes.

As with Mastermind (the sixth episode / second film), there’s no need to have seen any of the series to follow things. Though the characters aren’t introduced from scratch, there’s no explicit reference to any on-going plots — any that are relevant are re-established in a way that isn’t intrusive. A knowledge of what happened in the ten films not chosen for cinematic release is inessential, then, but it does deepen the viewer’s understanding of events to some degree: Linda and Stefan’s relationship was played out more fully across the whole series, for example, while Stefan’s suspension has been a gradual slide rather than an almost sudden revelation.

Indeed, while the emotional pay-offs are sufficiently handled within the film itself — for one, it centres on an issue that it’s hard to not find affecting (which, if I spell out, is sure to give away a revelation or two) — getting to know the characters over the 18 preceding hours surely adds a dimension to the effect the story, its revelations and its twists can have on the viewer. Think, for example, of Serenity: I know people who saw that film cold who found the deaths emotional, but not to the same degree as those who experienced the film on the back of 10 hours (and more, with repeated viewings) getting to know and love those characters. I’m not saying Wallander at any point achieves the giddy heights of Firefly and Serenity, mind you, but the theory is the same.

The Secret‘s own plot is suitably high-stakes, if not quite as filmic as the one in Mastermind. Making it personal for one of the team is always a good way to make A Bigger Story, and there are some particularly large revelations and twists involved here. Ola Rapace is finally given something significant to do besides be a bit grumpy, and he excels in an understated fashion — even his moodiness now has good meaning. None of the reasons for this shall I spoil for those yet to discover the series, but events here will undoubtedly have a lasting impact — though how much this will be felt in the forthcoming second series (which, I understand, only includes one theatrical release) remains to be seen. In particular, the tragic suicide of Johanna Sällström, who plays Linda Wallander, must surely hang over the new episodes to some degree.

It’s arguable how fully the issue behind the story is explored, as the film gets rather caught up in explaining its own conceits — flashbacks disguised as asides to the current action, for example — and complex plotting — when past relations between characters come out, there are some hoops to be jumped through so that it all makes sense. I wouldn’t go so far as to say any of this is poorly handled, but one wonders if screenwriter Stefan Ahnhem has ultimately bitten off more than he can comfortably chew. The later twists and complexities occasionally overshadow the depressingly grounded earlier events.

Unfortunately, the cinematography — though a small step up from the ‘regular’ episodes — also isn’t quite as filmic as in Mastermind. This one feels more like a TV episode granted an upgrade, whereas Mastermind was closer to ‘the real thing’ of a film — as much as that can be defined and/or justified these days, anyway. One might suppose this leaves more room for the actors — in particular Rapace, as already mentioned, but also Sällström — though I’m not convinced it makes a huge difference.

Some of these are minor points, perhaps, but a number of factors add up to mean The Secret doesn’t feel quite as distinctive as Mastermind. Perhaps I’m holding it to ill-conceived criteria — as the culmination of the series, it has several things going for it — but I remain unconvinced that it tackled the subject as well as it could have.

3 out of 5

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