Sunday, 2 January 2011


NOTE: IT welcomes the New Year with only its second guest essay. Bob Cornwell wrote a version of what follows as a comment following my response to The Man Who Smiled (you can link to that here), but before the post which precedes this one--for some reason the site refused to post it. If you've followed IT's response to Wallander, in books and on film, I think it will interest you. As you'll see, Bob and I have somewhat different takes on the focus of One Step Behind, as I'm more willing to let some of the overt social comment be subservient to the development of the main characters. We're also a little at odds over the Branagh versions; I'm not convinced it's a question of length as much as Branagh's preference for an existential hero, and a diminishing of the ensemble cast of cops. Perhaps we should get together on picking and choosing the best bits of each series--Nyberg and Linda from the TV series, Martinsson from the TV movies, Wallander's father from the Branagh series, and edit them into one killer version!

by Bob Cornwell

I too was puzzled by the ending of the The Man Who Smiled. That final shot, with Lassgård/Wallander grooving along to the Hepcats' ‘Cadillac’, must have sent a shiver down Mankell's spine. Strange that anyone thought that was appropriate, particularly Lassgård (Mankell’s own choice for the role). Or did I detect a certain glee from him, eight years into the series? The adaptation, as you suggest, is pretty free, omitting key parts of what is the book’s central theme, the corrosive effects of untrammelled capitalism, not only on big business (with the book’s link to Robert Maxwell in the UK) but also its effect on individuals and local government. The IVF sub-plot appeared to me as totally gratuitous. The ending was, I thought, a neat compromise, if a little over-idealistic.

I was less happy with the lack of context to Wallander’s anonymous sex with the hotel prostitute, as well as with the scene itself, which shows Wallander out of character, and surprisingly naive for a senior policeman! As you know, in the book Wallander is on leave of absence after the concluding events of The White Lioness, in the depths of despair and considering a possible end to his police career. He knowingly embarks on that brief relationship (it occupies 15 lines in the book) and the character does not recur. Later he takes under his wing the newly arrived younger policewoman Ann-Britt Höglund, a non-sexual relationship which develops innto one that echoes Wallander's relationship with Rydberg, his deceased colleague and mentor) whilst still filled with longing for Baiba Leipa, the Latvian woman he met in The Dogs Of Riga.

Clearly that wasn’t enough for the two scriptwriters you mention, who invented Maja, presumably to spice up the previous film, The Fifth Woman, and beyond: she lasts through to Firewall. I wonder what they do with her in the later The Pyramid, written as a prequel to Faceless Killers? Significantly perhaps in Sidetracked, which markeds the resumption of the Lassgård series after a five year gap, and which according to IMDB, has Mankell as a contributing screenwriter, there is no Maja and Högland appears in her own right.

One issue this series does highlight is the question of runtime. It has always irked me that so many of the facile verdicts on which series is ‘better’, ignore the fact that the Branagh versions are all 90 minute condensations of what are complex 400+ page books, whilst the Hendriksson series, with one exception (After the Frost) are based on Mankell story outlines, not even short stories, and (presumably) lack the careful structure and detail of the books, therefore enabling the screenwriters to produce a product more in accord with conventional series thinking. This is not to decry the Hendriksson series, which has produced some notable episodes, but simply to point out that they are two different beasts.

As is the Lassgård series. Faceless Killers (1995) is a 4-part series running to 209m (again according to IMDB, not always the best source of runtime info) – and this the shortest of the Wallander novels. Later we get 166m for Sidetracked, 127m for The Man Who Smiled, and 180m for Firewall. Such generosity with screentime is surely more likely to produce an adaptation likely to find favour with those who have actually read the books. Wallander’s father appears in these early films, for example, as does Baiba. The exception to the rule is the version of One Step Behind, 90m in the Branagh version, 100m in the Lassgård version. On first viewing, I am far from convinced that the Lassgård version uses its extra minutes wisely (though I think Lassgård’s performance is the superior one). But at least the Branagh version does not ignore Mankell’s underlying theme of the rise of irrational violence in Swedish society, whilst the Lassgård version (though often beautifully directed by Birger Larsen) ludicrously over-emphasises the homosexual aspects of the story to produce a killer who is all-too explainable, and therefore at variance with Wallander’s own post-arrest investigations (ignored in both adaptations). Nevertheless I join you in hoping that the BBC will let us see the earlier episodes in the series, including The White Lioness (1996) to date the only film version of this novel.

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