Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander

Watched the first (of three, I believe) installment of PBS Mystery‘s versions of the Henning Mankell Kurt Wallander thrillers.  Last night was Sidetracked and I think in the next two Sundays they’re doing Firewall and One Step Behind.

It wasn’t bad at all, was a creditable version, but was still mildly disappointing.  I didn’t really buy Kenneth Branagh as Wallander.  Wallander is an exhausted mess who drinks too much coffee, can’t sleep, is overweight and eats badly, and Branagh is just too good-looking.  Sarah pointed out that a major aspect of the novels and of Wallander’s character has to do with the mundanity of his daily life: the sad meals he ekes out of his empty kitchen, his fussing about whether or not to wear his thick sweater to the crime scene, endless pots of coffee.  Most of that sense of slow dailiness is excised.  Also, much of the pleasure of the novels depends on the suspense that builds over time, and the plot felt compressed and rushed into the 85 minutes or whatever.

It was odd that everyone spoke in British accents of one sort or another.  My guess is that they actually worked to translate specific Swedish accents/dialect into British versions.  I know film-makers have to face this problem routinely: should they speak in Swedish-accented English?  What would the logic for that be?  But this seemed a bit disconcerting.

Sidetracked is a pretty typical/exemplary Mankell novel in the way it reveals a modern Sweden scarred by various forms of global suffering, abuses, and evil.  The novels are obsessed with Sweden as country that sees itself as “traditional,” tolerant and liberal, but that doesn’t know how to handle the transformations of a new global economy, with its immigration and novel forms of inequity and corruption.  The theme of the traditional confronting the modern plays out in a striking way in this novel where the criminal turns out to commit his murders (of corrupt politicians and financiers, chiefs of the new economic order) in a kind of regressive psychopathic trance in which he reimagines himself as a Native American warrior.

I liked the Southern Swedish settings, beautiful photography.

It was disappointing that Wallander’s father now paints rather attractive-looking landscapes.  In the novel he paints basically the same painting of a wood grouse over and over; I guess they decided it would just seem too strange.

I’ll keep watching.  I wouldn’t watch if you haven’t read the novels, though.

5 thoughts on “Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander”

  1. They also gave him a cell phone. Wasn’t he always getting in trouble with the ladies in his life because he’d stand them up and was totally unreachable? Also how will they handle all the times he gets in trouble (suspect returns home when he’s sneaking around) and can’t call for help.

  2. I may be wrong, but I feel like he does have a cell phone in some of the books but leaves it in his jacket pocket, drops it, etc. Not sure though.

  3. I’m with you on this: you lose not only much of KW’s sodden character but also the minor characters and his relations with them. In the PBS version they’re all sacrificed to the sensational elements of the plot.

    I forwarded your posting to my mother who not only agrees with you but is now sunk deep in a Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo novel on your recomendation.

  4. PBS should never take a mystery book and make it into one of their hour, hour and a half programs. It would have been so much better had they decided to take one Wallander book and do a mini series of it.

    They killed the books by PD James too.

  5. Yeah, I agree with both of the last two comments. I liked ‘Firewall’ a bit better, but it had the same problems. The plots are so (a bit ridiculously) sensationalistic, so when you remove a lot of the ‘extraneous’ stuff and are left primarily with those plots, the stories lose a lot of what makes them great. I’ll still watch the last one, probably.

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