Wallander: Swede dreams are made of this

Kenneth Branagh's 'Wallander' captivated TV viewers. Now, as BBC4 shows the Scandinavian original, Geoffrey Macnab examines their different emphases on detectives, darkness and alienation

Anyone wanting to play Inspector Wallander has to pass the soiled-underwear test. There is a revealing passage in Faceless Killers, the first of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander crime novels, in which the Swedish writer describes his permanently exhausted, world-weary detective bolting down a hamburger so quickly that it gives him diarrhoea.

"As he sat on the toilet he noticed that he ought to change his underwear," Mankell writes, providing his readers with just a little more detail than they probably want or need, but also making it very clear that Wallander isn't one of those glib, telegenic detectives who never has to worry about indigestion, needy relatives or tax returns.

BBC4's decision to broadcast several episodes of the hit Swedish Wallander series has given British audiences the chance to compare and contrast Wallanders. How does the original, local, Swedish series stand up to the award-winning detective dramas starring Kenneth Branagh?

"They are quite different," the series' Swedish producer Ole Sondberg says. "Where they're really different is that Branagh really focused on the dark side of the character, whereas if you see the Swedish series, we are trying to achieve more humour, more lightness, We were very afraid that the character would be too dark."

Both Branagh and Krister Henriksson, who plays the detective in the original Swedish series, look as if they would probably pass the underwear test. They've gone to great lengths to cultivate plenty of stubble and red rings under their eyes, suggesting that they neither get much sleep nor have much time to devote to personal hygiene. In "Sidetracked", the first episode of the British Wallander, the detective is visited by his daughter. Separated from his wife, he is living in a cluttered, messy apartment. "God, this place is squalid," the daughter exclaims. Henriksson's Wallander is dark-haired, slimmer and not quite as unkempt as Branagh. He is a devotee of opera music, which is just how Mankell describes him. (There is no Verdi in the Branagh version, apparently on the grounds that listening to classical music would make him too much like Inspector Morse, whose spiritual heir he seems to be – at least in the eyes of the commissioning editors.)

The irony is that the Swedish Wallander plays much more like a traditional British detective drama than its British counterpart. Henriksson plays him as a detective in the mould of Taggart: a dour, taciturn figure, albeit with a morbid sense of humour and an underlying humanity. Confronted with a seemingly motiveless double murder, in which one of the victims was his childhood sweetheart, in "The Brothers", he and his team probe away patiently for clues. His own emotions don't cloud his professionalism. One trait immediately apparent is his liberalism. He deplores the kneejerk racism of some of his compatriots, especially those among the wealthy elite.

The British Wallander is far more stylised and cinematic in conception. It lacks the sense of local identity that characterises the Swedish version. Given that it was made in Sweden by British actors and technicians, this was probably inevitable. The programme-makers try to bolster their Swedish credentials by referring to the assassination of Olaf Palme and including lines like "the world now recognises that Sweden stands for a little more than just Björn Borg, Abba and a bit of skinny-dipping in mountain lakes." Even so, when all the actors, whether they're playing cops or criminals, speak English with the same neutral, middle-class BBC-style accent, it never seems that we are really experiencing life on the streets of Ystad ("a nest of pirates and fraudsters," as Strindberg once described it.)

The stylised quality is intensified by Anthony Dod Mantle's brilliant but idiosyncratic cinematography. Dod Mantle, who has worked closely with maverick film-makers like Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, shot the Wallander dramas using the Red One digital camera. The visual effect is striking.

Often, in TV detective dramas, the emphasis is on close-ups. We see the hairs in Ken Stott's nostrils or on John Thaw's furrowed brow looming out of the small screen as the sleuth wrestles with the latest mystery. In Wallander, as shot by Dod Mantle, attention isn't just concentrated on the sweaty landscape of the detective's face. We also see spectacular sequences of fields and cityscapes. For example, during the very first moments of "Sidetracked", we see a young girl fleeing through a field of yellow, head-high crops before setting herself on fire in front of Wallander.

Branagh's performance is fascinating, if very over-determined. He first met Mankell during the Ingmar Bergman Week on the island of Faro in the summer of 2007. At times, his Wallander seems less like a hard-bitten Swedish detective than the anguished priest played by Gunnar Bjornstrand in Bergman's Winter Light. Just as that priest is struggling with his faith, Branagh's detective is in similar conflict about his profession. Each fresh crime he encounters takes a huge psychic toll on him. Branagh has talked of "the ongoing empathy, the open-wound quality" that Wallander has developed in the face of all the suffering he has seen. He is not the typical hard-bitten detective in a police procedural drama who reacts to each new crime, however grotesque, as if it is just in a day's work.

Audiences in Sweden, Britain and elsewhere, respond to Wallander because he does seem such a vulnerable and grounded figure. He is a middle-aged man whose life is always at risk of falling apart. The detective is estranged from his wife and has a tempestuous relationship with both his daughter and his elderly father.

In the wake of the success of the Wallander TV dramas and of the Stieg Larsson film adaptation, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (made by the same production company), there has been much speculation about why the world is currently so obsessed with Scandinavian crime fiction. Is it the light? Is it the long winters, or the tendency toward introspection? Is it the interior design?

The irony, as far as Ole Sondberg is concerned, is that, in the Swedish Wallander, there has been a self-conscious attempt to introduce more humour and to escape from the stereotype of gloomy Swedes. He suggests that the two series work best in very different markets. For example, the US has no interest in the Swedish Wallander whereas the much darker Branagh version has done extremely well with American audiences.

Arguably, the success of the Mankell and Larsson books isn't really to do with Sweden at all. The themes and characters have a universality of appeal. These are stories as much about the personal lives of their characters as the crimes they are ostensibly investigating. In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the detective is a rebellious young woman who dresses like a punk. In Wallander, it's a dysfunctional middle-aged man. Both have a crusading quality about them. For all the stresses in their domestic lives, they're relentless when pursuing a new case.

Mankell has given the British version of Wallander his blessing. What he liked was precisely that it wasn't a carbon copy of the Swedish series. "After 15 seconds, I knew these guys are going in their own direction," he said after first watching the Branagh version.

Yellow Bird, the Swedish production company behind the Wallander TV series, hasn't discounted the possibility of a big-screen version. "Nothing is out of the question," Sondberg says.

In the meantime, three more Branagh Wallanders are being filmed in Sweden this summer. There are also some fresh Swedish Wallanders on the way. All the evidence suggests there is room for both. Rather than one series eclipsing its rival, they seem to have enhanced each other's visibility. For now, at least, Branagh and Krister Henriksson look set to march hand in hand. The world can't get enough of crusty, world-weary Swedish cops with personal-hygiene issues. It doesn't seem to matter which language they speak.

Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003