Henning Mankell, novelist extraordinaire
I first found Henning Mankell through his crime fiction featuring the melancholy Swedish sleuth Kurt Wallander. That’s understandable, those novels have been translated into more than 40 languages and have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. I was thrilled by the film adaptations and the TV series too.
The landscape ever present in the Wallander novels beguiled me, the long twilights shadowing the undisturbed forests, the extensive mires and swampy lands, the lakes and waterways, the dreamlike feeling of an eerie territory. Some part of me responded to this land of bitter wind, of ice and snow.
Wallander muddles along most days trying to make sense of modern Sweden, listening to opera during the dreadful winters, and frequently overcome by Scandinavian melancholy. His wife has left him, his daughter won’t speak to him, and he has an infuriating elderly father who paints the same landscape over and over, seven thousand times in all.
Wallander lives a less-than-desirable lifestyle, eats badly, and drinks his nights away in a lonely, neglected flat. Over the years he’s become increasingly disillusioned with his work and despairs of the racism growing in Sweden. Kurt is a complex, moody man with a sharp intellect and an intuitive grasp of the hidden motivations of others. His colleagues, although frustrated by his brusque manner, respect his judgement.
It’s the complexity of Wallander’s character that endear him to us. We understand his frustration in the over-stretched workplace, his disheartenment with the selfishness of the younger generation and we understand, also, his fears of growing old.
Everyone has their favourite Wallanders. I prefer the Wallander most like the one in Mankell’s books and that’s definitely Krister Henriksson.
All three actors are superb.
The originals were Swedish-language films produced between 1994 and 2006, with Rolf Lassgard. Happily, I watched Faceless Killers, The Dogs of Riga, Sidetracked, The Fifth Woman and The Man Who Smiled on late night television and managed to videotape most of them. Unhappily, I have yet to work out a way to move the videotapes onto disc.
Then came the series with Krister Henriksson.
The first season of thirteen films was produced for television in 2005 and 2006, with one taken directly from a novel and the remainder with new storylines suggested by Mankell. The second season of thirteen episodes was shown between 2009 and 2010.
Henriksson was definitely Wallander.
Kenneth Branagh is excellent. Even after the shock of hearing the name, Wallander, anglicised and being startled at the very young ages of Kurt’s colleagues, I quickly learned to love these series too. The sense of Sweden is still there and the dark, weary detective is just as dark and weary. And just as pale and pudgy.
But Henriksson is still Wallander to me.