Here’s the scene: A detective—about forty, rugged good looks, speaks the Queen’s English as if he were once a broadcaster on BBC radio, dark clothing, fashionable hair, divorced, one daughter with whom he struggles to communicate, aging belligerent father from whom he feels estranged—returns from the scene of a grisly murder. He becomes immobilized by depression, nearly catatonic, weeping, whining, never sleeps, lives with a hangover, brilliant at solving crimes, but unbearable as a person. As I see it, this is an accurate description of British actor Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of the fictional Swedish detective Kurt Wallander.
Long before I stumbled onto the Branagh BBC series Wallander, I had very mixed feelings about Kenneth Branagh—good in Shakespeare, awful in Frankenstein, and so forth. But as a real lover of Scandinavian crime fiction, I was up for giving the Wallander series a shot. After three or four episodes, I had had enough. Great Swedish settings (cold, dark, wet, but beautiful), interesting stories, good supporting cast, but I could not stomach Branagh’s overblown Existential angst in his interpretation of the title character.
The novels from which the Wallander series was created were written by the late Swedish novelist Henning Mankell, who died in 2015. About a year after I abandoned the BBC series, I ran across an inexpensive used copy of one of Mankell’s Wallander novels and decided to read it. I was not surprised to find really good writing, which is common with the Scandinavian writers, but was delighted to find a title character who was likeable—middle-aged, average looking, a little out of shape, no black clothes, plain hair, divorced, struggling with his relationships with his daughter and aging father. Pensive, a little brooding at times, but a far, far cry from Branagh’s morose, nearly suicidal cop.
Not long after reading the novel, I found a Swedish production of the Wallander series on Netflix and thought, why not? It was a jewel of a series–in Swedish with subtitles. The Swedish lead actor, Kristor Henriksson, an average looking guy, was a perfect balance between pensive and active, brooding and outgoing. No more weeping and whining, just quiet and thoughtful. Still brilliant at solving murders, but also an interesting person. I’d say that Henriksson saved my Wallander.
I may not in future watch a Kenneth Branagh production of anything. I will continue to read Henning Mankell’s Wallander novels. If you like crime fiction, you need to introduce yourself to Scandinavian crime fiction. Henning Mankell would be a good place to start. The Wallander novels are good reading, and as a bonus you get the Swedish production of the TV series, which captures the best elements of the fiction.