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Henning Mankell's Wallander: I'm the screenwriter

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Peter Harness Peter Harness | 11:25 UK time, Friday, 6 July 2012

By total coincidence, I live in Southern Sweden, about half an hour down the road from Ystad, the small coastal town where Wallander is filmed and set.

I'm one of those jammy sods who managed to entice a Swedish girl into marriage and then paid the price by being made to emigrate to a well-maintained, socially progressive, sensible-thinking paradise. With sunny summers.

I was already considering myself ridiculously lucky when I was rung up in 2009 and asked whether I'd consider taking over writing duties on the series.

I was overjoyed, in a very non-Wallander kind of way: and I can safely say that I've relished every moment of this job, working on my own doorstep with an unbeatable team, and adapting a series of books that I've loved since my Swedish father-in-law gave me Before The Frost (film number three in the new series) 10 years ago.

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Watch the trailer for series three

For those of you coming to it afresh, Wallander is about a middle-aged Swedish detective working the badlands of Skåne county - which lies just over the sea bridge from Denmark and the rest of Europe - and dealing with often horrific crimes that seem to belie the social democratic paradise that I mentioned above, belief in which is a key part of Swedish national identity.

I suppose the series is known for a certain melancholy of tone; for its striking - and I think, exquisitely beautiful - visuals; and, perhaps most of all, for a towering central performance from Kenneth Branagh (now, of course, Sir Ken) in the role of Kurt Wallander.

It's also the series that seemed to kick off the craze for what's now called Nordic noir in the UK: a genre which encompasses the novels of Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbø and Camilla Läckberg (amongst many others); the Millennium films; and the gripping TV shows, The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge.

I don't think it's hard to see what appeals to British audiences about Scandinavian crime fiction.

It tends to be very well written, tightly plotted and characterised, and extremely exciting.

It also tends to be about something: some social issue, some questioning of why these terrible things happen, which, without overpowering the stories, gives them a depth and meaning often lacking in other crime genres.

But, perhaps most importantly, it has a very particular atmosphere: of wide open, beautiful but bleak landscapes; of deep snow and long winters; of contemplation and (that word again) melancholy.

An enjoyable kind of sadness that supposedly permeates the Scandinavian mentality.

When I sat down to write the new series, one of the things I wanted to do was to give Kurt a bit of an easier time, to move away a little from the sadness that seemed to be inherent in the tone of the series.

Previously, Wallander has invariably been hurt and disappointed by his personal life and disturbed and damaged by the things he saw in his professional life.

I thought it was about time to give him a break, to make him happy; and I'm pleased to report that this happens in the first of the new series, An Event In Autumn.

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An Event In Autumn: 'You know you're dreaming... you've got nothing'

It happens for about 10 minutes. Then Fate, despite all my best intentions, unleashes a proverbial bucketful on him.

In fact, although I tried hard to reinvent Wallander as Mr Cheerful, An Event in Autumn is probably the bleakest Wallander yet.

Happiness in Wallander is like Winter sun, greatly appreciated but essentially fleeting: Kenneth Branagh would write REMEMBER TO SMILE in large letters on the script of episode one on those few occasions when the story allowed him to do so.

Perhaps Henning Mankell is to blame.

After all, he's the wise and wonderful man who came up with the character of Wallander and wrote the short story upon which An Event in Autumn is based. He's the godfather of this genre.

However, he's such a kind and warm person and has been such a tremendous inspiration and joy to collaborate with that I can't find it in my heart to blame him for anything.

I guess I've come to realise that the melancholy, the disappointment and the difficulty are part of what make Kurt Wallander who he is, whoever is writing him: he can't help but be affected by the things he sees in his working life, and he can't help but take them home with him.

Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) stands alone in the bleak landscape

Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) stands alone in the bleak landscape

During that first episode, he protests that he's basically a cheerful person, but also realises that he can't do what he does, he can't see the things he sees, and not end up the way he is.

I think that's probably true of a lot of real-life detectives.

However, I don't want to give a misleading impression: it's not all rain.

An Event in Autumn is just one of three films, and as we've seen, there are smiles and even a couple of jokes in it.

Although my favourite joke, which involved the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, had to be cut for reasons of him being found.

Anyway, the new series takes place over a long time. We begin in winter, move to summer (and to Riga) for episode two, and pick Kurt up again in late autumn.

And although his new beginning goes wrong for him, Kurt's already on a journey out of depression and drink; he's much more resilient and emotionally open than once he was; essentially, he's grown up a bit.

So I'm pleased to report that he does end on an optimistic note, with the chance of happiness coming from a place he didn't expect.

Series Four, however, might well be a different matter...

Peter Harness is the screen writer on series three of Wallander. Peter worked closely with Henning Mankell, author of the original Wallander novels, on these three feature-length films.

The first is An Event In Autumn, which is on Sunday, 8 July at 9pm on BBC One. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    Oh please try harder to make Wallander happy. I love the series in all its makeovers but at times Wallander' scripts almost turn me on to valium!

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm happy (probably inappropriate, as it's Wallander we're talking about) that new things in Kurt's life, the house, the girlfriend, the labrador Jussi, give him some cause to smile. It's never really a 'full on' smile, never lasts long and a tantrum or broodingly staring out of the window isn't far away. But as I said, it is Wallander. That's what makes him so believable, so human and loved the world over. He's huge in South Korea!

  • Comment number 3.

    Thank you for the accuracy with which you depict Mankell's stories and characters. It seems a bit made, but a regular dose of Swedish gloom is very therapeutic. Are there any plans to adapt any of his non-Wallender books? We are very fond of Italian shoes and this could make a wonderful film/programme.

  • Comment number 4.

    Just watched first of new series..great..but why why why the awful pronounciation..
    WOLLANDER..come on "Vallander" is not that difficult to say, we are not all thick

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Great start to the series - it's Wallender's personal and professional demons combined with the landscape that makes this franchise so depressingly captivating. Wow - where did that sledgehammer moment come from...

  • Comment number 7.

    What was the closing music please ... Singer and title?

  • Comment number 8.

    Having just watched the new episode of Wallander I must say I am very disappointed, I found the script to be lacking in depth and the storyline somewhat predictable. I think the original Swedish version of the TV programmes are far superior. The portrayal of Kurt is more plausible in the Swedish version as opposed to Kenneth Branagh's character that would not still be in the employ of the Swedish Police given his irrational behaviour. Still that's just my opinion!

  • Comment number 9.

    I became rather angry during the wallander program this evening. I realise Kurt is supposed to be a troubled character and I have followed him in previous episodes without having problems believing in the story. Tonight I found incidents like his inability to answer a sensible question during a phone call from a colleague and walking away from an important call without completing or closing the call down.
    I am sorry but that is completely unbelievable and I lost it, it is unreal.

  • Comment number 10.

    I looked forward to watching this evening's episode of Wallander but from the start, the music was overpowering and distracting. My enjoyment of the whole episode was spoiled by the loud 'background' sounds that totally drowned the dialog, I, like thousands of people in this country, wear hearing aids, and for me, a brilliant programme was ruined by this totally over the top din that bombarded the senses and did not, in any way enhance this first class drama.

  • Comment number 11.

    I should be really interested to know the title of the (stated) novel by Henning Mankell Event in Autumn was based on?

    All the way through the muffled sound I thought it had been hastily written to excuse the disgraceful way Wallender was treated at the end of The Troubled Man.

  • Comment number 12.

    I had been feeling depressed all day but after watching Wallander my spirits rose; I couldn't possibly compete on the depression stakes with this man!

  • Comment number 13.

    I like K B very much but had to switch off when his colleague was hammered as I find visual instant violence too upsetting, although I can tolerate dead bodies. There is so much gratuitous violence these days, but I can't keep on watching repeats of Poirot, Morse and Lewis. Even Midsummers gives you flashbacks on the actual killing, which are not necessary. I've never been a soap viewer as I enjoy the mathematics of crime. It's all recorded thankfully and I fast forward over the nasties, but my index finger is showing signs of wear. There's always 'Gardener's world' I suppose!

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm a big Henning Mankell fan and have watched the two Swedish series versions of Wallander, but I find the portayal of Kurt by Kenneth Branagh almost unwatchable.
    Many times the script is left hanging in the air, as in one character stating ' he's a pervert' and 'Kurt' just leaves the room and doesn't ask any obvious follow up questions, quite bizarre actions for a detective.
    There were many examples of sentences trailing off into silence, often without resolution.
    Kurt is a complex character, sometimes dreary and drab, but this series is dreich beyond belief.
    Last night's offering encouraged me not to watch again.
    I'm sticking to the books.

  • Comment number 15.

    Brief as I can. The two previous Wallander series were some of the best TV I have ever watched. However In the first episode of series 3. Wallander states that he doesn’t believe in coincidence. Yet we have to believe a father implicated in ten year old suspicious death decides to come clean by burying the body in Wallander’s garden, ok fair enough. But how does this in anyway relate to the son deciding to become a killer, just a coincidence? Furthermore why was his son hanging around Wallander’s house at night, oh maybe just another coincidence, or just a very cheap device to link him to his father, really not credible. Also you have striped Branagh of what were strong characters to play against. His new police team are anonymous. Take for instance Wallander’s illegal entry into a suspect’s home, which almost gets a colleague killed (female from original team). His previous female superior would have reprimanded him, probably suspended him for it, yet it wasn’t even mentioned, totally inexplicable and unrealistic. I am disappointed.

  • Comment number 16.

    Having seen an earlier episode and found it very implausible we were curious to see whether time had improved matters. However, we have to say, what a waste of money! I cannot comment on how sympathetically the character in the books has been portrayed, but frankly the whole storyline/action beggared belief. At the very least following the illegal break in the character would have been suspended and removed from the investigation. The total lack of professionalism on the part of the other police characters merely reinforced the jaw dropping disbelief. Trying to deal with this lack of reality made it difficult to connect with the personal storylines. I am quite sure the Swedish Police Service would be very embarassed to have been portrayed in this amateurish manner!

  • Comment number 17.

    Such a disappointment. Two women murdered and one knocked into a coma just so we can see the suffering of Wallander as he neglects his home life and still fails to ride to the rescue. No attempt at developing those characters or of exploring the reality of such crimes.
    I'm afraid Kenneth Branagh is a bit too theatrical .. please don't have any more close ups of his crying eyes. Bring back the Swedish version ... so much better all round.

  • Comment number 18.

    I am totally dumbfounded as to why the BBC commissioned another series of this programme starring Sir Kenneth.
    Why the expense of filming in Sweden when such a thin plot, with nothing uniquely Swedish could have been set anywhere?
    Grim from start to finish and an experience I shall not choose to subject myself to again

  • Comment number 19.

    I'm a huge fan of the Swedish version but I gave this another go to see if it would change my mind. Sadly not. Some cringe making moments where police procedural was explained to us 'dimwitted' viewers. Yes, we do know that nicking DNA evidence without a warrant is frowned upon. No need to labour this point ad nauseam. And utterly unbelievable that Wallander would need this explaining to him! Advice - you should treat your viewers as if they were expert detectives, not utter nincompoops. By the way Branagh's Wallander cries far too much (at the drop of a hat) and I don't believe his emotional outbursts for one minute and there's too much distracting music all the way through.

  • Comment number 20.

    The whole problem with the three series is that they are shown out of sequence. 'An Event in Autumn' was adapted from a short story published only in the Netherlands! Where was Martinsson? I assume Tom Hiddlestone was too busy to answer a summons even from Sir Ken! Who was KW's new boss? The Swedish version is much better but the books are still the best place to be in Ystad!

  • Comment number 21.

    So what was the Bin Laden joke ....?

  • Comment number 22.

    Not having read the books, I cannot say whether Wallander is supposed to be as emotionally/psychologically/mentally disturbed as KB portays him each time. I do not recall Vallander doing so in the Swedish version, which I prefer. The police team also seem more professional and involved in the latter?

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    Really liked the first episode of the new series but can he change the irritating ring tone on his mobile

  • Comment number 25.

    Hi everyone

    Thanks for your comments.

    Firstly: Pammie #7. You can now find details about the music featured in the first episode of Wallander, An Event In Autumn, on the programme page here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01kv4py/segments - hope this helps!

    winterose #10. Your point about volume of background music is such a common complaint to the BBC that they carried out research into the subject. Danny Cohen, the controller of BBC One, wrote this post on the TV blog last year about the findings, in case you’re interested: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2011/03/is-the-background-music-too-loud.shtml

    Many thanks

    Eliza Kessler
    BBC TV blog

  • Comment number 26.

    I love both, but given the choice, the Swedish version with Krister Henriksson shows a much more decisive, commanding, brusque (but caring) Kurt. More Scandinavian looking and believable too. This version with the odd explosion, car chases, shoot-outs, a busy police station/incident room plus Kurt’s briefings with the CID and uniformed officers (and the odd temper tantrum) has a better blend of action too. He also speaks in loud and clear, complete sentences and acts like a senior police officer.

    Branagh’s version is nothing like this. It’s slow burn atmospherics, with the undisputed second star of the series being the scenery, the blue (or grey) skies, and those trademark rapeseed fields. Branagh’s Kurt just seems to mumble a lot, say sorry a lot, shuffle around, brood, hold his head in his hands, and rub his eyes. His mumbling, indecisiveness and inability to complete telephone/face to face conversations with officers/the public does start to irritate after a while. He’s still great though, but essentially a different characterization. You may disagree.

    Don't forget Rolf Lassgard. I gave him a chance, but visually and personality wise, didn’t like him at all. This Wallander is probably closest visually/physically to Mankell’s characterisation, but well, you decide.

    And I totally agree with Myrna2468, about the disgraceful way that Mankell ended the career of his greatest literary creation in "The Troubled Man". Just like that, in the final paragraph, like it had to be finished by a 12pm deadline - and he'd suddenly realised it was 11.55am, just enough time to finish Kurt off and email it to his publisher. I'll say no more about this, but everytime I watch Wallander, I just can't help thinking about how he finally ends up.

  • Comment number 27.

    "The series is known perhaps most of all for a towering performance from Kenneth Branagh".......in the words of McEnroe...."You CANNOT be serious!" This man ranks as one of the most indulged and ludicrously overblown actors of the modern age. Compared to original series and Henrikson's superb portrayal, the depth and range of the performances from the support cast etc this rendition is as great an embarrassment as its/his earlier series. Tedious and self-indulgent at all levels with implausible scenarios littering the whole episode and all compounded by Branagh's usual approach to acting - namely "Look everybody this is me acting". In the name of heaven Ken watch those such as Mr Henrikson and see how to PORTRAY a character immersed in the realities of particular roles and circumstances. The BBC should be embarrassed by the whole sorry venture - leave it to the Swedish experts and for the Lord's sake leave Kenneth Branagh to Stratford!

  • Comment number 28.

    I love Wallander and all the characters that go with his team however- I think that having all the characters speak English loses the authenticity of the whole show. It was far more believable when we had them speak their natural Swedish language and subtitled-it became more real-this series could have been filmed in Grimsby- sorry Grismby- but I like Kenneth Branagh- and think he is a tremendous actor who by all accounts has the character of Wallander spot on but not the English lines. Bring back the subtitles and Swedish actors

  • Comment number 29.

    Wow What a Series, Kenneth Branagh is the tops as Wallander, he writer must be som pleased with the interpretation
    The cast, the scenery, the method of capturing the landscape, everything says classic drama.
    Lets have more please

  • Comment number 30.

    please would you give me the name of the piano music played in july 15 episode. haunting music

  • Comment number 31.

    I have already stated, the previous 2 series of Wallander are in my opinion among the best television productions ever made, in any period. However, the latest episode of series 3, what on earth can I say. A very poor attempt to suddenly turn this show into a 1970’s style cold war thriller. The plot is painfully comically bad, utterly ridiculous. To the script writer, please don’t work on this series again, ever! A senior Latvian detective leaves cryptic clues, either by accident or by design (who cares) for Wallander to find. The cigarette packet left in the archive was particularly mind numbingly bad. You have turned what was a series with a dream like hypnotic quality into mush. In the past scenes were sometimes long with not much said but the audience learnt something. Now you have short scenes where people march in to a room then march out, for no discernible reason. Wallander himself used to be a cynical cop falling apart but he still got the job done. Now he doesn’t seem to have a clue what day it is. Even the celebrated photography seems to have gone. Please tell me, did you run out of money or did you set out to deliberately ruin this series.

  • Comment number 32.

    I love the program, but... The one thing I find irritating is the fact Ann-Britt has risen to her rank without ever saying ONE harsh word to a villain or ever laying a hand on a villain. I know she's supposed to be kindness and compassion personified, but can a writer give her even one chance to WOMAN-UP please?

  • Comment number 33.

    Akin to watching a dreary, slow-motion underwater 'this is European acting' competition. If the BBC1 audience is really so incapable of reading subtitles, why not dub the Swedish versions into English, rather than wasting the licence fee on this tedious vanity project?

  • Comment number 34.

    Hi everyone

    Thanks again for your comments.

    Juliebardner #30 - you can find details about the music featured in the second episode of Wallander, The Dogs of Riga, on the programme page here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01l2w53/segments


    Eliza Kessler
    BBC TV blog

  • Comment number 35.

    I have really enjoyed all of the Wallander series in a sort of "strange" way.To see him manage a smile when he watches his grandchilds scan almost made me groan with relief at last! What enthrals me most about the series is the breathtaking camera work----I can t take my eyes off the screen from beginning to end.I have never seen anything so clever and wonderful in any other Police drama---brilliant

  • Comment number 36.

    I love the show- and Kenneth Branagh is the best :)

  • Comment number 37.

    Was first introduced to Henning Mankels wonderful books ,by my lovely Swedish husband , loved Wallander DVDs and was then delighted to see it on the BBC .We introduced it to my Mum who is 85 and she absolutley loves it and manages to follow the subtitles! She would not miss one episode ! However this BBC Version has been rather depressing and would certainly not promote Sweden as a holiday destination - the Swedish version does as did the the last BBC series ! KB is a brilliant actor as are the whole cast ! But my dear Mum stood up and said - Well didnt enjoy that one little bit! My husband and I both feel they have take the Scandinoir to the Dark side! Get the Schapps out and let the sun shine now and again!

  • Comment number 38.

    I've read, as Mallarme said, all the books (in translation), I've watched the two Swedish series, and Sir Kenneth's version since the first season. And it seems to me Mankell's 'Wallander' has yet to be filmed. The books remain superior, and also different. I find the Branagh version extremely frustrating. I admire Sir Kenneth very much; I think his Shakespeare films, especially his 'Hamlet', and his performances therein, very fine indeed, if anything underrated; and I have been pleased and intrigued by such ventures as his 'Magic Flute'. And I believe Sir K could have been the definitive impersonation of Mankell's character. I was encouraged by the recent 'Dogs of Riga' but I see now that that glimmer of hope (fresh blood due to the cast of 'Latvians'?) was delusory. What went wrong? One of the problems is that he is somehow isolated among actors and actresses of immeasurably less presence. This does not make his performance better: far from it. The best scenes he has had have been opposite David Warner's superb incarnation of Wallander snr. The rest of the cast are appallingly weak. Is anybody convinced that they are police officers? They appear to be remarkably feckless and ineffectual. The young woman who suffered the distressing hammer-blow was, I fear, the worst, always wittering, mithering, mammering about in the most annoying and unconvincing manner. One felt, sadly, that the hammer needed to come sooner or later. The other offender is the oddly camp and mincing pathologist. Who can believe he is a pathologist? Who can believe any of them are professionals? They are all just 'speaking lines' -and not well. Nor is he anything like the books' Nyberg. And their diction, the diction, is ghastly. No one has any elocution. It is all mushmouthed slur and mumble, and Branagh seems to have caught it. He is increasingly sounding like Ricky Gervais' most (in)famous character. Neither script nor performances have any texture, substance, or depth, and the plots and dramaturgy are strangely thin and flimsy. It is, it has become, a kind of Scandinaviana-lite, a kind of Ikea kitsch; it is all mood, all surface and scenery, like a pop-video; and though Branagh could, truly could, have been the veritable Wallander, apart from his dreadful diction his performance is in danger of lapsing into a collection of tics, as it were 'This is me doing the sad face', 'This is me doing the crying face', 'This is me being passionately inarticulate', 'This is me looking like a hypersensitive aggrieved mollusc'. It affords a remarkably, one might even say a cynically, thin, paltry, tawdry, experience. Then there is the rest of the cultural 'dumbing-down'. What happened to Wallander's love of opera? All right, it's a little too close to Morse, but it is in Mankell's characterisation. Mention of Morse prompts one to observe, how much richer and more rewarding was that series! How much more moving and memorable television. Worst of all was the most recent episode of Wallander, which appeared to be mere propaganda for Secular Materialism, as if penned by a collaboration between Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins: Christianity was reiteratedly depicted as if exclusively the province of the criminally insane, of extremists and marginalised cranks. This attitude was pervasive, explicit as well as 'subliminally' tacit. The Cross was included in shot every time the scene concerned the suspect or one of the criminals. Nyberg was made to explain that he knows where The Apocalypse is in the Bible 'because he was a Christian before he became a pathologoist' - a sufficiently crass remark. Every intelligent and literate person should know where to find Revelations in the Bible, just as you should know Don Quixote, Homer, or the basic tenets of Buddhism! In fact Mankell's books may be said to question the secularism which was assumed unquestionable in the epsiode, since Wallander is bewildered and despairing precisely because his society no longer makes any sense: modern Sweden is so comfortable, so why is society falling apart? Why this anomie, why the increasing violence, the loss of any apparent sense of right and wrong? If this Wallander is intended for young people who can't speak properly and don't know anything, I think they deserve better - rather than being encouraged.

  • Comment number 39.

    Just great TV - real quality stuff. And Kenneth Branagh is brilliant in this show. Can't understand many of the negative comments above. Season Four ASAP please BBC!

  • Comment number 40.

    PS. I shall be most interested to see if anybody actually engages with my criticism. My apologies for its length and the occasional typo. Wallander deserves better. Sir Kenneth Branagh: I have just been astonished and delighted by your uncanny impersonation of that maniacal artist Olivier - NOT your better in Hamlet! - in a film that was otherwise fluff and flapdoodle. Please cease to accept the lightweight and disposable.
    Sir Kenneth, you don't really need me to say it: it is well within your capability, and more worthy of you, your authentic convictions, your real intellectual integrity and your true pioneering creativity -and above all your expressively vulnerable yet noble humanity- to give us better. We deserve better of you, and you deserve better of yourself. Neither have I forgotten your Henry V. Get a cast off, with, whom you can strike sparks. Get a script that does not assume your audience is constituted of morons. Show us Wallander scrutinising his conscience, listening to Verdi, asking himself what has gone wrong with Sweden. Give us the real Wallander: you can do it.

  • Comment number 41.

    Absolutly fantastic production, please return with more episodes.
    Its great to have a fresh european production brought to british tv.
    Hats off to all cast and crew!!
    Top marks tv.

  • Comment number 42.

    I found the whole series rather drab has put me off ever going to sweden some of the scenes pathetic i.e when Anna arrives at his house and stands there like a dummy .very poor series .


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