Kenneth Branagh Returns to Wallander
Kenneth Branagh returns for a second season detective Kurt Wallander. Based on the novels by best-selling author Henning Mankell, Wallander battles crimes, and his own demons, in the bucolic yet brutal seaside town of Ystad, Sweden
Vancouver Sun, 4 September 2012
For a moment there, Kenneth Branagh, slightly dishevelled, was immersed in thought. Not unlike his Kurt Wallander character in the BBC series 'Wallander'. The next, when asked about the acting process and how a Shakespearean actor from Belfast, Northern Ireland, becomes a dour fictional detective from a dreary city in coastal Sweden, as originally imagined by Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, Branagh came alive. His eyes bright and alert, the words came quickly and with the crispness and clear enunciation of a performer who has made language his living.
In the third season of 'Wallander', which airs Sunday on PBS’s Masterpiece showcase, Wallander has found bliss of a kind with the new woman in his life, played by 'Page Eight'’s Saskia Reeves. Bliss was never meant to be part of Wallander’s state of being, though, and it isn’t long before, dour and disconsolate, he’s drawn back into the criminal underworld. A young woman has leaped to her death from a ferry and Wallander must determine the circumstances.
Life is no better on the home front; the happy couple have discovered the decades-old remains of a murder victim on their property, and Wallander now has to juggle two investigations, both of them with their hidden perils.
The season opener is called 'An Event in Autumn'. With a wry laugh, Branagh suggested it could just as easily have been called 'The Autumn of Wallander’s Discontent'.
“My observation of Henning Mankell’s novels is that they’re about a certain kind of thoughtful and meditative detective,” Branagh said. “Kurt Wallander has a relative lack of vanity about his appearance. He doesn’t have this sort of machismo swagger. He’s male, in certain, possibly tedious ways. But he doesn’t carry that openly. He seems to live just for the job, and to have an empathy for the victims of crimes that, to him, are dangerous and emotionally debilitating. He is actually quite distinct from other (fictional) detectives. He’s a 24-7 kind of guy. He has fewer of the ticks. He doesn’t have the coat. He doesn’t have the toothpick. He doesn’t have the weird obsession with cars. He’s sort of unadorned, in a way. He’s just about feeling and then trying to solve the crime. It’s not necessarily the most efficient way to do it, but it’s his way.”
Branagh has seen how Scandinavian crime fiction has seemingly seized the popular imagination — Mankell’s Wallander novels, Stieg Larsson’s 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' trilogy, Danish playwright Søren Sveistrup’s 'Forbrydelsen', which provided the inspiration for 'The Killing', etc. — but he doesn’t know why.
He has a theory, though, and it’s what drew him to the Wallander novels in the first place.
“It’s an interesting question to know why, at this time, it seems to have caught on across the world. Crime fiction and detective fiction has been successfully and beautifully done for a very, very long time, in all sorts of cultures and in different countries. I read the Mankell books before doing the series, just for enjoyment. I do read crime fiction. I guess reading stories of violence reveals truths about the human condition, and also provides often ingenious tale-telling and plotting from fine authors. To me, the Scandinavian authors revel in the spaciousness of landscape. Reading Mankell, I feel this sense of being in a landscape painting. In southern Sweden, if you pull the car up at the side of the road, there’s usually just you and five miles of vast landscape, a huge sky, and one red barn. Everything feels as though it’s been composed by God for you to have a very good think about.
“It seemed that crime in that harsh environment, with its severe temperatures, the contrasting moods, the almost pagan attachment to summer — everybody is out in the streets, everybody stays up late — and the long winter, where everybody has to dig in and suffer and endure, does different things to the character.
“It can feel very isolated, shooting this series, you know, when you’re out at Wallander’s house and there’s just us. And when the lights go off, there’s no ambient street light. It’s dead. It’s as pitch black as you can possibly imagine. So, suddenly, this environment than can seem magnificent and majestic in the day feels very dangerous indeed, and full of potential dread at night.
“For me, 'Wallander' is about the landscape and the sense of being in the far north. Characters like Wallander have a chance to meditate in a very concentrated way on life and death and big themes, because nothing else is in the way. As a reader, and as a viewer, you see these familiar scenarios of the awful things that people do to each other in an entirely different context, whether it’s that landscape of the country or the vivid landscape of Stockholm — river and city. I think somehow Wallander gives new character and meaning to familiar stories.”