Wallander, Mankel and Me … a footnote

A quick follow-up to my previous post about re-watching the two series based upon Henning Mankel’s Wallander novels.

At the same time as the second series, featuring Kenneth Branagh, was being made, I was approached by BBC Scotland to see if I would be interested in presenting a documentary examining the world-wide success of Mankel’s novels and the popularity of their central character, both in print and on screen.

Hmm, I thought … a trip to Ystad in southern Sweden, where the stories are set and where Branagh was filming, along with a couple of days in Stockholm and, hopefully, the opportunity of interviewing the rather reclusive Mankel at his home in Gothenburg … why not? I knew the novels quite well and liked them a great deal, admiring Mankel as a socially conscious writer whose strong political values underscored his fiction without it ever coming close to propaganda.

Who is Kurt Wallander? was shown on BBC Four to coincide with the Branagh series, and later made available as an ‘extra’ on the BBC DVD containing the first three episodes. Aside from the embarrassment of watching myself walking through fields of wheat in my baggy linen suit while talking to camera, I was pleased with the finished programme, in particular the interview with a surprisingly relaxed Mankel, in which his intelligence and sense of purpose showed through clearly.

And if that’s whetted your appetite and you’re sitting there thinking, Damn! I wish I’d seen that!, the good news is that a nicely abridged and edited version [complete with Spanish sub-titles!] is now available on YouTube, its central focus the Mankel interview.

“Watching Wallander … again and again …

One of the advantages of ageing – aside from the fact that when travelling via public transport – in the rush hour, say, on the London Underground (when it was safe to travel on the London Underground) or once, memorably, on the delayed 17.57 from Leeds to Hebden Bridge via Bradford Interchange – one, at least, of your fellow passengers will eagerly offer you their seat – will, in fact, be quite offended if, in your embarrassment, you decline – [and I sympathise if, reading this sentence, you are beginning to feel you are clinging on by your very fingertips] – one of the advantages, I suggest – and now, finally, we get to it – is the realisation that the loss of short term memory can, in certain situations, be a blessing.

It is perfectly possible, for example, to rewatch the television adaptations of Henning Mankel’s excellent Kurt Wallander novels as if each were made up from a series of revelatory events, some of which may have faint echoes of a distant past. A somewhat fractured viewing process which has its effects doubly charged by the fact that Wallander himself is haunted by the fear of descending into the same terrifying blankness of dementia that overwhelmed his father. And the fact that there are, as some of you will know, two separate series – separate though using, in the main, the same basic stories – in which Wallander is played by two quite distinct actors – Krister Henriksson in the original Swedish version and Kenneth Branagh in the later British one – serves only to taunt the memory and further contribute to an overall state of confusion.

Kirster Henriksson as Kurt Wallander
Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander

Branagh seeks to bludgeon any suggestion of a growing loss of powers with loud and sometimes violent anger – you can ‘see’ him acting – whereas Henriksson’s denials are more private, more controlled. The scene, late on, in which he smooths aside the clothes hanging in his wardrobe to reveal photographs of his work colleagues taped to the wall alongside their names, is quietly devastating and, once seen, impossible to forget. Whatever else may fall away.