The best ‘Wallander’

Also by The Slacker: mystery novel ‘New Holland’

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Fans of BBC One dramas will be familiar with the English version of ‘Wallander’, featuring Kenneth Branagh in the lead role; fans of BBC Four might have seen the two Swedish television versions, with Krister Henriksson and Rolf Lassgard. But who manages to play Wallander best?

Undoubtedly all three have their merits – English-speakers are likely most familiar with Branagh’s version, so let’s start there. Branagh is of course a master of his profession: Wallander’s character is always central to the novels, and Branagh’s acting in the British TV series reflects this admirably – he commands every scene he’s in, doing so with a strangely appealing melancholy.

But fans of the novel may agree that on screen Branagh does not feel like a Wallander – he looks far too healthy, handsome and well-bred to be a detective who drinks too much whisky, is constantly fatigued and feels nervous when he phones his on-off Latvian girlfriend in the middle of the night.

There are six more British episodes of ‘Wallander’ planned: the production team will need to be wary of making the plots not based on Mankell’s books seem too unreal, as happened in one of the Swedish versions. The version with Krister Henriksson as Wallander ran for two series  between 2005 and 2010, and was made up almost entirely of original storylines. In most cases this worked well, but a couple stand out – ‘The Village Idiot’ and ‘The Mastermind’ – as being far-fetched.

Of the three Wallanders Henriksson’s is the most understated, bringing out the shy and vulnerable elements of the inspector’s character. Slight changes in his expression, rather than his actions or his words, are left to tell much of the story. A recent BBC documentary on Swedish crime pointed out the best example of this – when Wallander looks, almost motionless, into the empty container lorry where several illegal immigrants have died (‘The Container Lorry’).

The relationship between Wallander and his daughter Linda (Johanna Sallstrom) is portrayed marvellously in this version. She joins the police in episode 1 (as in the novel ‘Before the Frost’), and their relationship simmers: sometimes they seem close (usually on that windswept beach); at other times they tolerate one another; at other times there is open hostility. The relationship feels like an authentic one between family members who are forced into close proximity and argue, but deep down care for one another. Tragically Sallstrom committed suicide in 2007.

However, a weakness of this series is how Wallander is surrounded by the beautiful people. In the first series it is Linda and fellow officer Stefan Lindman (Ola Rapace); in the second series they are replaced by the even younger Isabelle (Nina Zanjani) and Pontus (Sverrir Gudnason). Henriksson himself is a handsome devil, making the viewer wonder whether there’s a police force in the world with such an impressive stock of telegenic eye candy.

The same cannot be said of the other Swedish version, described as the ‘film version’ and the first to appear. Rolf Lassgard gives the character a gruff, awkward quality: one that rings true with Mankell’s original. He’s not a healthy weight, wears bad clothes, needs a haircut and looks likes he gets up at 5 o’clock and has no breakfast. He’s backed by similarly careworn colleagues with demons of their own. There are no smouldering gazes out to sea (Branagh) and no evenings  listening to opera with an impressive array of books as a backdrop (Henriksson) – Lassgard’s Wallander gets in after midnight, microwaves his dinner but falls asleep before eating it, having half-finished a cheap bottle of vodka.

The series isn’t without faults. A big omission is the lack of relationship between father and daughter. There is similarly scant reference to his father, and it all ends strangely as Wallander throws in the towel to live happily ever after by the sea. Some have criticised Lassgard’s acting. He gruffness at times this borders on petulance, as if he’s a sulky teenager – especially when he keeps flicking his hair back.

So, overall, who’s the best Wallander? After preferring Henriksson’s for a long time, I have recently moved to preferring Lassgard. However, in truth, all three are great and bring something different to the role. What do you think?

Saul Pope is the author of ‘New Holland’, a mystery novel set in Russia and published by Espresso Books. He also writes for the football magazine ‘When Saturday Comes’.

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4 thoughts on “The best ‘Wallander’

  1. i LHAVE SEEN ONLY THE BRITISH AND THE Krister Henriksson VERSION AND I PREFER THE SECOND BY FAR…

  2. I have now seen all three and admire them all. However I think Rolf Lassgard is my favourite now, but then I have seen him most recently. Whatever anyone thinks all three versions are compelling in their own right.

  3. I’ve enjoyed all the interpretations. Sorry there won’t be any more.

  4. Rolf lassgard is my pick.

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