Welcome to a new-by-way-of-old feature I’m calling Current Fixations. Here I’ll explore something I’m obsessed with, perhaps temporarily. This could be a TV show, a magazine, a book/series, a record, a band, a vegetable, an animal, whatever. Today’s installment: the BBC series Wallander.
The first three installments of Wallander aired on the BBC in 2008, and on Masterpiece Mystery on PBS in 2009. The series is based on a series of detective novels, which I have not read yet, by Henning Mankell (who, by the by, is currently caught up in the Gaza flotilla controversy — all the more reason to love him?) The novels are about Kurt Wallander, a detective in the town of Ystad.
Wallander, a clever detective whose personal life is in the toilet, is played brilliantly by Kenneth Branagh. In the first three installments, we get a feel for his family life: father drifting toward senility, wife filing for divorce, daughter trying to hold on but finding him to be, at times, too caught up in his work to get along with. The series is as much about Kurt as a person as it is about Kurt as a tool for discovering whodunit.
The series is beautifully shot in Sweden, taking advantage of the long twilights of the Swedish summer to deliver a slightly unsettling feel. The camera work is gorgeous, concentrating a good bit on the scenery of the Swedish countryside and constructing shots that are fine art in and of themselves. There’s gore, to be sure — blood, decomposed bodies — but the most unsettling aspects of the films tend to be the psychological stresses in Wallander’s life and work. Even when a crime is solved, there’s no happy ending in Wallander.
Series Two of Wallander was filmed in 2009 and began airing in the winter of 2010; no air date is set yet for the series to come to PBS, but I’ve seen trailers on WQED, so I’m assuming they’re planning on showing it this year. I hope. In the meantime, it’s worth getting the first series (three 90-minute episodes) from the library, as I just did.