Tuesday, 28 December 2010


Kudos to BBC4, who are showing some of the original Swedish Wallander series, nine movies made by Swedish television (SVT) between 1994 and 2007, adapting all Henning Mankell's novels, and starring Rolf Lassgard as Wallander. BBC4, being English at heart, began in the middle, with The Man Who Smiled (2003) the sixth of the nine. It's a fascinating adaptation, both for the way it follows the novel and for the changes it makes.

The core, of course, is Lassgard as Wallander, and he plays the character much closer to his written persona, seeking no sympathy apart from the odd moment of comic appeal. He's a little too sharp-featured, perhaps;  Krister Hendriksson, who starred in the Swedish TV series, comes close too, but often has a bit too much twinkle and empathy, while Kenneth Branagh in the British version is far too jaw-grindingly existentially tormented, and far too dependent on his designer stubble to render the character with nuance. The BBC recently compared Wallander to a Bergman character (an easy assumption to make, since Mankell is married to Bergman's daughter) but there is a difference, in that Wallander's existence is totally wound up in his personal battle to put the world right. In that sense, he's post-Bergman, less concern with questions of why we are here as to what we do finding ourselves in this milieu. Lassgard's performance suggests someone swept up by the overwhelming pressures of his work, the Martin Beck influence coming through clearly. He looks a bit less solid than I imagine Wallander should, somewhat too soft around the edges, especially with his hair parted in the middle, but he makes up for it with the fiery temper that seems unware of who it might be offending, and the highly visible disdain for authority.

The adapters (Klas Abrahamsson and Michael Hjorth, who also did the screenplays immediate before and after this one) have changed the colleague with whom he has an ill-fated affair; now called Maya and played by the excellent Marie Richardson, she's perfect as the exasperated foil trying to balance the private Kurt with the police Wallander. In that sense, The Man Who Smiled was a good place to start, as it shows the relationship running almost full circle. The rest of the supporting cast is good, but not necessarily foregrounded as they are in the TV series. The first series of television shows benefitted from Johanna Sallstrom as Linda Wallander, and a strong ensemble with Mats Bergman seeming to absorb Wallander's dour side from Henriksson as Nyberg. The Branagh version keeps the supporting cast much more in the background, apart from the huge plus of David Warner as Wallander's father, who doesn't appear in the Swedish TV version, and not in this film. The adaptations are similar in style to the second and third Girl Who movies, obviously shot with the smaller screen in mind, but without too many concessions, and even, as we'll see below, eschewing the opportunity for a car chase of sorts!

Here Kerstin Andersson gets the school-mistress role as Wallander's boss, and handles it very well, while Christer Fant is brilliant as Svedberg, playing him something like a Gunvald Larsson from the Beck series, but a tremendous foil for Lassgard. Lars Melin, as Martinsson, plays the cop who'd rather be somewhere else, and Melin reminds me more than a little of John Pankow (best as William Peterson's partner in To Live And Die In LA).

The big changes to the book involve both the tycoon Harderberg and Wallander's pursuit of him. There is a sub-plot added with Harderberg's adopted daughter (and his IVF impregnation of her), and, more significantly, the ending is changed (if you don't want it spoiled stop reading now). In the book Wallander captures Harderberg after an airport runway chase and he is charged with crimes. In the film, Harderberg apparently escapes, but Wallander passes on his files to an investigative reporter. In a way, this is more Wallander than Mankell; the book highlights his obsessive pursuit of the wealthy industrialist who's beyond the law (a real nod to Sjowall and Wahloo's Murder At The Savoy, as I mentioned in my introduction to the Harper Perennial edition of that book) but the film also shows the limitations of his efforts, held back the influence of wealth and the politics of power, and how he goes outside the rule-book in order to get what British crime dramas would call 'a result'. And thus it ends, with Wallander celebrating with a little rock and roll, the one false note in the entire enterprise. Driving away in the car pounding the roof is more Baretta than Wallander; perhaps driving away slowly with opera rising to a crescendo? BBC4 is already showing a two-part version of Firewall and I'm hoping they go back to the earliest adaptations, because it's a well-done series with an intriguing Wallander.


Ceider said...

I also hope they show more of the Lassgard films. I've seen only 3 Lassgard films, and already prefer them to the Henriksson films, even though I've seen two series' worth. I hope BBC4 see sense and show the other Lassgard films.

Fantastic series. I am not a fan of Brannagh's portrayal to say the least!

Village Bookworm said...

As a lover of the books, I just can't get into the Lassgard versions, maybe they are too close to the books with Wallander's flaws. I enjoy the Henriksson version and maybe have become too comfortable with it and him, despite being very loose adaptations.

The [more accurate] BBC/Branagh versions are very BBC, obsessed with celebrity main character and over-exposed lighting, enjoyable nonetheless.

Ceider said...

I agree with you about the Brannagh version. To me it's very much all style over substance. Not to mention Brannagh's luvvie style acting, all just too melodramatic for me. I'll still watch the next series, if only to compare it with the other portrayals...then complain loudly about it on the BBC messageboards!