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The Two Faces Of Wallander

The Two Faces Of Wallander

Guest column by Alice Maltin

I’ve been lost in the world of Henning Mankell’s Wallander because I’m viewing the British adaptation on TV while simultaneously following the Swedish series on DVD. This is causing some confusion for me. Is that woman the killer or is it the handyman? Was it the British or Swedish one where I saw that?  It’s embarrassing, I admit.

For the uninitiated, Kurt Wallander is a detective in a city outside of Stockholm and is played by Kenneth Branagh and Krister Henriksson. Both actors are wonderful in the role. Kurt is dedicated to police work and everything else in life is secondary, including personal relationships. He is the best at what he does, solving crimes. Wallander is sad and humorless; you might suspect that smiling is forbidden. Because the setting is a smaller city, you wouldn’t think terrible crimes occur, but you’d be wrong. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t smile. That, and the biting cold and rain that invariably accompanies his search for the bad guys in a clean but stark landscape. (I usually pride myself on knowing at the outset that the butler did it…but that’s not the case here.) Things are never quite what they seem.

Police work can be slow and exhausting; you feel this watching Wallander. You see the wearisome frustration of dealing with witnesses who don’t want to talk and criminals posing as innocent victims. I find it all fascinating and the TV and DVR stay on.  And, it’s never boring.

Both Branagh and Henriksson do nothing to make themselves look attractive…but they are. I know Branagh is a handsome man; here he looks older and tired. I believe you call that acting. Henriksson is not known in the U.S. but I bet he was one good-looking guy in his youth. (Tall, blond and blue eyed.) They are the opposite of their counterparts on American TV and so are their colleagues. If  hair and make-up are used you wouldn’t know it. Their costume designer has them dressing plainly; not a trace of Ralph Lauren to be found anywhere. Both versions have their colleagues making mistakes, lots of them. They go into a suspect’s house without waiting for backup; they fail to pick up clues because they are thinking of other things like getting home to their families. Again, this would be unacceptable on American TV. No one goes in without backup: we know that because we’ve spent years watching CSI, NCIS, Rizzoli and Isles, The Closer, et al. In other words, these detectives are real, with all the frailties like the rest of us. Wallander is left picking up the pieces.

I prefer the Swedish version to the British. I thought I would have difficulty with  subtitles but I don’t. In fact, listening to Swedish is fun. While picking up some phrases I found out that everyone in Sweden says “OK.” Who knew? Perhaps it’s a way of traveling to Scandinavia without leaving my armchair. Both versions are filmed in Sweden, however. I love watching Sir Kenneth, who does justice to Mankell’s Wallander…yet Heniksson has a certain something that makes you want to watch him. You can’t go wrong with either version.

Branagh’s Wallander will be playing on Public Broadcasting stations throughout the year and is available on DVD. Krister Henriksson’s Wallander is available on download and DVD.

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