Tuesday, 24 December 2013

TV9: Scandinavian Noir 2: Wallander & Wallander

Wallander (Swedish original)

The original Swedish version of Wallander is a series of 90-minute films (many aired first in cinemas) made between 2005 and 2013. They are based on the novels and short stories of Swedish writer Henning Mankell and concern a police detective (Kurt Wallander) and his daughter (also a police detective) in the town of Ystad, Sweden. As in most Scandinavian noir, there is an underlying theme of fighting not just crime but a society facing chronic injustice and oppression. 

The TV films are well-made and feature excellent acting by Krister Henriksson as Kurt and Johanna Sallstrom as Kurt’s daughter, Linda. Some of the stories are very dark, but as a whole the series does not have the same moody noir feel of The Killing. A particular strength of the Swedish Wallander is time given to Linda and her life in Ystad, and her relationship with an emotionally-distant and melancholy father.

Like The Killing’s Sarah Lund, Kurt is a driven man who cannot let go of a case once he has started, with the rest of his life frequently put on hold. I am not a fan of police TV but enjoy these films very much. ***+

Wallander (British version)

The BBC remade Wallander for British TV, beginning in 2008. The BBC made the unusual decision of filming the English-language version in the same town of Ystad. But although the series of 90-minute films are based on the same novels and stories of Mankell, the two versions (like the two versions of The Killing) are very different, with not only different takes on the stories but different characters as well (e.g. Linda is not a police detective and has only a minimal role in the British series).

Kurt Wallander is played by Kenneth Branagh, who is an excellent choice for the role. If anything, Branagh’s Wallander is moodier, more driven and more melancholy than the Swedish original. Indeed, the British version is altogether darker and has a much stronger noir feel than the original. Like the original, it also features excellent acting, especially by Branagh. 

Despite being filmed in the same setting, the British version is more beautifully filmed, with a focus on haunting landscape scenes. The relative lack of character development in the British version is offset by the cinematography, Branagh’s performance and a greater emphasis on justice issues (racism, sexism, immigration, etc.). As a result, I actually like the the British remake of Wallander more than the Swedish original. This is top-quality TV and gets ***+ verging on ****. My mug is up for both versions of these compelling police dramas. 

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