I tried watching Kenneth Branaugh’s English language remake of the Wallander series, but I just couldn’t get into his overly brooding detective. But I greatly enjoy Jo Nesbo and Roslund & Hellstrom’s Swedish murder thrillers even if I didn’t really get into that whole other series. The truth is that this new wave of Swedish material owes Stieg Larrson a great debt: to get Wallander in America, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo had to “blow up” first.
Henning Mankell’s Wallander is actually the second set of murder mysteries which are based on ideas from Mankell, but which followed the adaptation of his written stories that ran from 2009-2010, starring Krister Henriksson in the titular role. He’s brooding and moody, but he’s not the depressive type that Branaugh’s lead was. Maybe it’s because they were shooting for a happier Wallander, as you can read in the sixteen-page booklet that’s included. (For the record, there are some glossy shots, quick recaps of each episodes, and a few brief articles).
These words from Mankell stayed with me as I watched: “The only way to create a credible character in a novel or a movie is to portray a human being who changes. I do. No living creature is the same tomorrow as they are today.” We can read Wallander’s bio to see where he’s come from, but you can also watch as he’s affected by the crimes he investigates and the team of people he interacts with, to see how he evolves through these thirteen episodes.
Even having to read the subtitles, I found the stories compelling and complex. It’s not just about solving the mysteries but about watching these changes in Wallander. He’s troubled, lonely, and not that great with people! But he’s recognizing (some of) his own shortcomings and working to teach and explore the role he must play in the next generation of police. He’s examining his own mortality, and struggling with his own aging. He’s human after all.
The mysteries he unravels, from the opening in The Revenge where bombs and murders draw in the attention of the military, to the final chapter where he goes up against human trafficking, are not whodunits from the days of Columbo. He’ll tackle the Russian mob, love in the priesthood, drug smuggling, and a neighborhood watch. Unlike so many American dramas, he’ll have to deal with his own relationships, and with the relationships of his colleagues. It’s work at home and home at work, rather than some kind of dichotomy where the two things don’t overlap.
I think that the issues Wallander struggles with are rather contemporary, too. These situations aren’t insular, but rather embedded in the political, social, religious, and economic world that we all live in. They are integrated in the same way that the episodes integrate the lives of Wallander’s crew with the work that they do.
Overall, this thirteen-episode arc is entertaining and thought-provoking. It’s a shame that more people won’t see it because they’d have to read the subtitles, but I must admit that, like other great foreign material, you become more acclimated to tone and nuance and rely less on the need to read the words. It’s a testimony to the story that Mankell has told through his character, and to Henricksson’s ability to deliver the character and changes of the man himself.