Archive for March 12th, 2013

Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels were the first Scandinavian mysteries that I read and so when I came across the TV series , Henning Mankell’s Wallander, I was immediately interested.  Wallander , for those unfamiliar with the novels , is an aging detective in the Swedish city of Ystad , about 40 miles from Malmö. He is separated from his wife , has a difficult relationship with his grown up daughter , Linda , and with his elderly father, a mediocre painter who makes money painting the same landscape over and over again . Wallander is also an opera lover  who drinks too much ,  leads a sedentary lifestyle and has anger issues. Not a very charismatic character but the novels are a great read.

Of the two series ” Henning Mankell’s Wallander” is a Swedish production starring Krister Henricksson and , in my opinion , it is far superior to ” Wallander” , a British production with  Kenneth Branagh in the title role. I happened to see the Swedish production first and liked everything about it . Krister Henricksson plays Wallander just right — dour , moody , lonely and yet someone we can relate to . The supporting cast too is low-key but authentic and the character development is engrossing. Wallander’s on-again, off-again romantic interest , the prosecuting attorney divorcee who is both his boss and his neighbor , is played by the actress who played Erika Berger in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The multilevel plotlines are an improvement over the novels because they are richer and more complex  and they introduce some original characters such as the two probationary cops. As is usual with European TV , the series centers on people and relationships and it is very down to earth. It is peopled with characters who are not all goodlooking , and who are almost familiar to us in their ordinaryness.We feel we have seen people like  them  in our own lives. One viewer criticized the series as having ” some of the sloppiest police work ever”. I don’t agree ; I thought it was fine . In real life , crimes are more often solved by doggedness and strokes of pure luck than by brilliant detection .

Luckily for me , I watched this Swedish  series before the British production . Had I watched the British  series first , I likely would not have watched the Swedish series at all. As it is , after watching just three episodes of the British production, I called it quits . Kenneth Branagh is a great actor and ,perhaps because his face is so recognizable,  it is difficult to accept him as Wallander. Branagh’s Wallander too is emotionally repressed , drinks too much and is work obsessed but he is also shown as grungy , miserable and annoying . In one scene , his daughter admonishes hin ” Dad , you stink ” i.e. he literally stinks .  Branagh is allowed to dominate the action far too much and treats the show as an opportunity to show his acting chops. The supporting cast are caricatures , there only to allow Branagh to play off them . Ystad in this series is so different from that depicted in the Swedish series that it seems like a completely different place . This Ystad is a smaller place , more rural , and less interesting. I wonder which of them is closer to the real Ystad.

I think it is a mistake to attempt a series set in a foreign country and to use famous actors to play foreigners . The choice of Kenneth Branagh to play Wallander was a fatal error . I can see him as Henry the Eighth , yes ; Kurt Wallander , no. Listening to British actors mouth the lines in their typical accents had me wishing that I could mute the volume and read the subtitles . Alas , that was not an option.

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