Henning Mankell tells Jake Kerridge why he likes the BBC’s take on his Kurt Wallander crime novels - 'Wallander’ .
But since the Brits have taken Wallander to their hearts, with the Government seeing fit to give the star of the series a knighthood as the new season begins, it seemed like a propitious time to join in the celebrations here. He loves the British films, he tells me, even though he has very little to do with making them.
“I think they have purified the stories. A lot of silence, a lot of thinking, sometimes very little dialogue… Not just driving, talking, driving, talking, like Morse.”
Mankell has nothing but praise for Branagh, who asked him for permission to play the role when they met at a Swedish film festival. He is pleased about his friend’s knighthood because it acknowledges Branagh’s place in the pantheon of the great British actors he admires. He ranks Branagh with Sir Alec Guinness for ability to convey emotion and thought while “listening into the silence”.
On top of his already prodigious output, Mankell has written a miniseries for Swedish television about his late father-in-law, Ingmar Bergman. The series, which will be filmed later this year, is not a pious memorial. Although Mankell created Wallander before he married Bergman’s daughter Eva, he sees similar flaws in the two men. “They both refuse to compromise over their work and they both let their families pay the price.”
I wonder how his own family views his adventures. He has been held at gunpoint in Africa and in 2010 was briefly reported dead after Israeli forces stormed a Gaza-bound aid boat he was on. “Maybe I wouldn’t have gone if I’d had small children. But my children are grown up. No, I don’t think I have treated my family as badly as Wallander does.”
Mankell is glad that other Scandinavian dramas such as The Bridge, with its socially conscious serial killer trying to draw attention to the poor, follow in the Swedish tradition of politically engaged crime writing. It was the left-wing detective stories written in the Sixties by Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall that made Mankell realise that he could use the genre to explore his interest in the workings of justice.
This interest began when he was a little boy, living above the courtroom where his father worked as a judge and reading the juicier divorce case reports (“they were very exciting, a sort of pornography”). “My father thought, and now I think too, that the system of democracy is entirely based upon the system of justice. If we do not have a system of justice that people believe in, the system of democracy will fail. This is the subtext in all of the Wallander stories.”
He may have done little to halt what he sees as a moral decline in Sweden in the past half-century, but there is no mistaking the passion behind his measured words as he defends his craft. “Have I ever written anything that has really changed something? What I believe is that you can’t change anything without using art. I believe that the drops wear away the stone. I try to be part of that army.”
Wallander begins on July 8 on BBC One at 9pm
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