Feeling Sorg–Swedes do it Best

This summer we started watching Henning Mankell’s Wallander, a detective series of about a dozen episodes based on chief inspector Kurt Wallander. He chases down dark and dangerous crime in the seaside town of Ystad, Sweden (many years ago, my dad taught me to pronounce the Swedish ‘Y’ by instructing me to make an ‘O’ with my mouth but say the letter ‘E.’ The town name should sound something like “euh-stawd.”).

Henning Mankell is the author of the original book series that has been made into several TV versions: the first from Sweden (1997-) stars Rolf Lassgård and the recent BBC production (2008-) starring Kenneth Branagh as Wallander has been broadcast on PBS. There is another Swedish version with Krister Henriksson in the role of Wallander, shot in 2005 and 2009. This is the excellent series that added tension and drama to our summer evenings and taught Jamie how to curse like a Swedish policeman.

We quickly became addicted to the high drama plots and the characters from Ystad’s police station: the young police cadets Isabelle and Pontus, gorgeous both of them, prone to over-earnest risk taking; officer Svartman the family man who is solid, reliable and a bit comical; Nyberg, the super steady forensics expert, originally from Iceland; Martinsson, Wallander’s deputy, in leather jacket, always eyeing his superior’s job, etc. The series is beautifully shot and adds natural light, color and the stark lines of the ocean horizon and harbor warehouses into the stories.

By far, the character I have the biggest affection for is Wallander. To care about this gammal gubbe, rather crusty old man, one must melt through a facade that is off-putting in many ways–he smokes and neglects his health in general, he is getting worn-looking and carries about him a typically Swedish affliction, feeling sorg. The word brings to mind melancholy of the Scandinavian kind, rather unspoken and suppressed. The actor Krister Henriksson gets this so just-right.

We were watching an episode last night where Wallander is listening to a colleague confess his scheming involvement in an armored car heist. As I watched Wallander’s face–just as he listened–it conveyed so movingly the complexity of the character’s reaction. He was surprised but had to roll with it–he was still actively trying to solve the crime. He was disappointed but concerned for his colleague–he knew his foibles. He was caught most awkwardly by his own feelings of self-reproach. He had never suspected this guy. Henriksson is simply a master at bringing this character to life–wordlessly with a face that is creased with care and eyes that water but never weep.

He solves the crimes, saves his colleagues and goes home to pour a glass of wine and to crank up some Maria Callas. He lets his guard down with Jussi his chocolate Lab, smiling and roughing him around the ears affectionately before taking him out for a stroll along the gray ocean beach. You can hear the waves lapping as each episode ends with a beautiful song by Anna Ternheim, Quiet Night. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmInifeZkzY



  1. candlgustafson@comcast.net · · Reply

    I confess that even American-Swedes are rather morose. They both have learned how to survive several months of frigid darkness with an attitude of, what else can go wrong. One thing you didn’t share was how to acquire the Swedish version of Wallander. Sorg pronounced like, “soor-yuh”.

  2. We watched it on iTunes/Apple TV. The rental was maybe $3 or $4 per episode–each an hour and a half. Look for the title “Henning Mankell’s Wallander:” Each episode has a short title like “The Revenge,” “The Guilt,” “The Courier,” etc. It is in Swedish with subtitles.

  3. […] have also been a longtime fan of Wallander, set in the town of Ystad, Sweden, which features the northern light and gray backbeat of the ocean […]

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