I’ve been entranced by the UK production of Wallander, which recently finished on Australian tv on ABC 1 on Sunday nights.
I’ve only seen a few episodes of the original Swedish productions which ran here on SBS in the mid 2000s and repeated since, but the casting and general look and feel of the British production starring Kenneth Branagh is very close to the version starring Krister Henriksson in the lead role.
The landscape and locations, the production design, the lighting and the whole understated nature of it is what I love.
Take the landscape – its “other-ness” of the Swedish location produces a sensation that we’re not just in another country, but on another planet. The flatness, grey skies, grey seas and muted colours. Snow either just gone, or imminent. The ocean is never too far away, but the seas are fairly flat. A lot of the action is, not surprisingly for a small country surrounded by ocean, rarely far away from a dock, or a quay, or a beach.
The beach house where Wallander lives in this series is low, sprawling, with faded paint, and creaky doors, surrounded by grey green grass and farm land. The furniture is spare, old, wooden, pared back to the basics; it’s no Ikea display home. The garden, which featured heavily in the first episode of this latest series as a burial spot for a body, is unkempt, non-descript and a bit spooky.
This is contrasted when there are designer locations; the look is sleek, finished with a sheen, with no frippery or florals. The crumpled Wallander bumping through these spaces adds to the weight of the detective as outsider, thinking outside of the square to work out the mystery.
As has been noted in other commentary on Wallander, in both series, he spends a lot of time driving to and fro, and there are several scenes in each episode taken from a crane or a helicopter. He drives across the bleak, flat landscape, through the milky light, with the sun setting or coming up. I think their purpose is to show the accumulation of time, and why Wallander’s so knackered all the time; it’s partly from all of that driving around.
Brannagh plays Wallander in an understated manner. He’s exhausted by the emotionally draining nature of his work, which he uses as an excuse to disconnect himself from family, or women he might like to have a relationship with. Like many detectives before him, he’s married to the job; similar to Rankin’s Rebus, his best bet for sleeping is the lounge chair, an empty bottle beside him.
It’s also interesting because it’s another in a list of cultural “products” featuring Nordic settings, which possibly started in the early 1990s with Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, and carried through various tv shows such as The Eagle, The Killing, and the hugely successful Girl with Dragon Tattoo series of books, films and tv shows. We somehow get the impression that our interest in these shows gives us some kind of insight into the Danish/Swedish/Norwegian way of life, in much the same way that people watching Home and Away or Neighbours, or even Packed to the Rafters. think they know about life in Australia. This belief was hilariously parodied by Jennifer Saunders in the 2011 reboot of Absolutely Fabulous. Eddie has been obsessed with watching episodes of the Danish detective show, The Killing, and is convinced that she can speak Danish as a result. She is visited in a dream by Sofie Grabel, the lead actress from The Killing, who has no idea what Eddie is saying to her. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw18U_-Y6b4 Of course, it’s all much more complex than that.
Also of note is the decision by the British producers to reproduce the stories from the original, and put them in the same locations as the Swedish production. A bit of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” thinking, which works well. So the presumed goal of good story telling, but reaching a wider audience through a production in English with a British star works in this case.
The last episode in this series is available on ABC tv’s iview for another two weeks.