“Wallander” Star and “Thor” Director Kenneth Branagh Is in a Scandinavian State of Mind

StarNewsOnline, 17 October 2010
By Jeff Hidek

Tonight is the final installment of “Wallander II” on PBS, a series of films following Swedish detective Kurt Wallander based on the novels by Henning Mankell. The BBC co-production stars Kenneth Branagh as the moody but determined cop, who tonight must decide if two murders are unrelated or in fact the work of a serial killer.

When Branagh spoke to TV critics this summer about the role, it was hard not to bring up a certain other Scandinavian guy Branagh is associated with. Branagh is directing “Thor,” the upcoming Marvel Comics film about the Norse god-turned-Earthbound superhero.

Here’s how Branagh compared the two: “Both Scandinavian. Both have family problems. Frankly, Kurt Wallander could occasionally do with a hammer and a cape. I don’t think that the Norwegian, if you like, or the Viking, has the same issues with introspection as Kurt Wallander… It’s a big country, small population, the seasons and the weather are extreme, and the possibility for looking inward into the interior life is great. So I think one of us certainly has that.”

Scandinavian life has taken a front seat in American pop culture recently, thanks to the mega-popularity of the “Girl with the Dragon tattoo” book series by Stieg Larsson, which has been adapted into films already in its home country and will soon get American versions.

So what makes the Swedes so special?

“It’s a good question,” Branagh said. ”I don’t know. The landscape is different. The feeling that the activities, the murder, the violence is isolated, that somewhere — to be poetic about it, that somewhere in the north there are clearer skies, fewer people — there’s an atmosphere which the Swedes themselves are happy to accept as poetic and mysterious… So it is less urban. The genre, if that’s what it is, is still finding itself.

“Maybe, also, there is a sort of puritanical element into it. But I think what they are unafraid to be is introspective and atmospheric and poetic. And I think they invite the audience, the reader, the viewer to consider more and infer more. My experience of reading the “Wallander” novels simply for pleasure was that I was allowed quite a lot of work to do. It didn’t seem like work. My part of the experience was significant. It wasn’t jumping plot point to plot point, and I felt as though I was being taken down many sort of diversions of reflection by Mankell that, in themselves, were pleasurable and enjoyable. So maybe it’s just there’s some sort of cultural slant that is speaking to us now in the 2000s.”

“Wallander Series II: The Fifth Woman” airs at 9 tonight on PBS.

Back to the Wallander page | Back to Articles Listing | Back to the Compendium