Monday, 25 January 2010

Ystad of mind

Unfortunately they're no longer on BBC iPlayer, but I did want to celebrate the BBC's latest series of Wallander, based on the celebrated books by Henning Mankell. The last episode was especially strong - certainly the best of this second series, which has been slightly bogged down by the police inspector's shame over killing a(n armed) suspect.

The Fifth Woman stood out thanks to Aisling Walsh's direction; I'd be intrigued to learn why several shots were filmed through windows. The usual implication when this happens is that someone is watching the subject but that wasn't the case here. Unnerving as it was, was the implication that Wallander felt he was being watched or that we the viewers were seeing something that we normally weren't privy to (or that there was nowhere else to put the camera)?

Kenneth Branagh's Wallander seems to spend much of each episode alone in his car. It may be a practical necessity to cover Skane County for his work, but here Walsh emphasised his isolation. And as she let takes hang as long as they poetically could, she would prick the scene's serenity with his inescapable, ridiculous, phone ringtone.

Branagh's achievement has been to carry this wonderful series; by contrast, his counterpart in the Swedish version, Krister Henriksson, acts as a catalyst for those around him, notably his daughter, Linda. It will be interesting to see where the makers of the British version (notably writer Richard Cottan) go with her character if and when she joins her father in the police.

To me, the Swedish version is played as a black comedy, notably in the interaction between Wallander and his forensics expert, Nyberg. There was a neat crossover between the two versions in the first episode of the latest British series, where Wallander shot a neo-fascist played by the same man who plays ever loyal police office Svartman in Sweden. You may have noticed, too, that anything written in the British version (police signs, book dedications) is in Swedish, making the show simple to dub into any language for coproducers and buyers while retaining its sense of place.

Update: the first two BBC series are now available together on DVD.

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