Watching The Detectives

Wallander DVDI noticed that one of the participants in the Gaza aid convoy was the Swedish author Henning Mankell. He survived the attack on the ships and was released and deported on Tuesday. Normally, I wouldn’t have heard of a Swedish author, even one who happens to be in the top ten in sales across Europe, but Mankell, of course, is the writer of the Wallander series of crime novels.

Not that I’ve read any of them (yet), even in English translation. As usual, it’s the television that’s to blame. I suppose I do have a tendency to be watching the detectives. Morse, Poirot, Marple, Holmes, Rebus, Wallander. But not The Sweeny, The Bill, Hill Street Blues, Spooks, or anything that’s action oriented. Lack of action: that’s what I like. A slow build-up of evidence and revelations. The more technical, forensic shows like CSI or Bones, well, I can take them or leave them. I think that perhaps my own background in science and technology undermines the credibility of those.

But you can’t question the slow but inexorable processing of a great investigative mind like that of Morse or Marple. I think it was the Morse programmes that were the first television series to have a two-hour running time, with a long, slow ascent to climax, something that gets me every time.

Two separate television series about Wallander have been screened in the UK: a Swedish one and a British one. I’ve watched quite a few episodes of the Swedish one, but none at all of the six made in English by the BBC, even when the opportunity has arisen. (A night in, nothing else on the box.) I don’t know, there’s just something about the concept that doesn’t attract me.

That’s not (necessarily) Kenneth Branagh, who plays the lead role. I have nothing against our Ken. In fact, Much Ado About Nothing, which he adapted, directed, produced and starred in, is one of my favourite films ever. I hear that he’s a Linfield supporter, but that can be forgiven. Not surprisingly, given the involvement of Branagh and the BBC, the programmes are real adaptions of Mankell’s novels, while the Swedish programmes use his characters, but aren’t written by him at all. But I’m still leaning more in their direction.

I don’t know what it is, but maybe it’s just that Wallander in English doesn’t seem quite right. I know that some people hate subtitles, probably the people who have to read like “see – ah – tea, cat!”, but I like them. Quite often I’ll turn off the television sound, run some music, and watch a programme with the subtitles for the deaf.

You can read a line of dialogue in a much shorter time than it takes to say it, and maybe that gives me more time to think about what’s going on, but with Wallander I usually have the sound turned on normally, catching fragments of the Swedish that are similar enough to English or German for me to guess how the words match the subtitles. (Also, there’s occasional English, which isn’t subtitled. Quite accurately, English is a lingua franca when different nationalities are interacting in the programme.)

Actually, there’s one on BBC Four tonight, titled “The Ghost” by the BBC, although I’m guessing that “The Phantom” would be a better translation of “Vålnaden” (I’ve always wanted an excuse to use an “a” with a little circle over it.) I haven’t seen it, although tonight’s showing is a repeat, meaning that it’s available for download on the BBC iPlayer. I might just get it and watch it at my leisure.

Henning Mankell, by the way, is now safely home in Sweden and has spoken in favour of international sanctions against Israel to try to persuade the country’s government to adopt a more rational and humanitarian policy toward the occupied territories and its relationship with the Palestinian people. That’s not likely, but I still admire the old chap for his words and deeds.


2 thoughts on “Watching The Detectives

  1. Actually, the English versions are much better than the Swedish. Even though they’re in English, they’re still filmed in Sweden, with most of the cast being Swedish. The main difference is how Wallander is portrayed. In the Swedish version he’s a perfectly normal man doing perfectly normal things, hitting on his next door neighbour, playing football with her kids, having drinks parties with friends. Brannagh’s Wallander, on the other hand, is a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a near recluse whose life is falling apart around him and all he has is his job and the job is slowly killing him and his relationship with everyone that tries to love him. And Brannagh plays it perfectly.

    I think the Swedish version suffers as well from how forced it all feels possibly as it is simply based on the characters: for example, Wallander takes up a passing interest in the local football team, but low and behold that was where the body was buried.

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