Visit Ystad Sweden with Wallander

Destination: Sweden

TV Series: Wallander with Kenneth Branagh  ( BBC and PBS)

Guest Post by Melanie McMinn


Melanie McMinn
Melanie McMinn

Melanie McMinn, an American ex-pat writer and artist living in New Zealand, actually takes time off from raising bees, creating creatures of felted wool, cooking, remodeling, and making all sorts of other things including a blog called Frugal Kiwi–which was named one of the five best blogs of Australia/New Zealand in last year’s Bloggies–(pant! pant! she’s wearing me out)– to watch television.  When I mentioned that I was doing a series of mysteries here at A Traveler’s Library, she jumped at the opportunity to talk about her favorite. She watches [amazon_link id=”B001VLBDB2″ target=”_blank” ]Wallander[/amazon_link] on BBC, but Americans have seen two series of the show on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery Theater (2009 and 2010), and are hoping the next three will appear soon.

Kurt Wallander inhabits  the eerie liminal space of Sweden’s long summer twilight and sunrise hours. Kenneth Branagh plays him as obliquely as the lighting for the BBC’s take on the internationally best-selling detective novel by Henning Mankell set in the town of Ystad.

Wallander doesn’t brood. He exists with the same low level of anxiety that many of us know so well. His wife has left him. His grown daughter disapproves of his profession and worries for his “inner life”. His artist father who is spiraling into dementia disapproves of Wallander as well, it seems, but for years has painted the same landscape again and again as his only work-varying only occasionally to add a grouse in the foreground. Wallander wakes up repeatedly through the series, but never in a bed.

The filming of the series isn’t the gritty cop drama grey we are used to seeing. One word you want is cinematography. Two others are super-saturated. The colours are heightened and you feel you are watching an art film. You know if you pay enough attention, all of this stunning camera work is bound to have a deeper meaning.

From the very first episode, you are steeped in the landscape of Sweden. Blazing yellow fields of rape blow in the wind. That scene, along with the fiery one that follows burns itself into your memory. In other episodes, characters are swallowed by the rolling hills and the crashing waves of the sea.

The set design transports you to Sweden as well. The Scandinavian aesthetic surrounds our characters and defines them. You never feel you are in an anonymous British or American setting. You have the feeling of 60s Scandinavian design, but tending now, 50 years later, to decay and disillusionment-the hopes for Utopia ground down by reality.

The Wallander feature-length episodes generally address societal issues with themes include sex trade rings and near slavery conditions of immigrant workers. If you enjoy incredibly high production values, acting from Academy Award winners, plots from best-selling novels all set in the Southern Swedish landscape, Wallander is probably for you. Two seasons have been released with the third due in 2012.

I also found the theme song of the series so haunting, I bought the album. See what you think from the soundtrack video below.

(Vera Here) I admit that I missed the two that were previously aired, but I’m gonna have to get those DVDs and see some of that “eerie liminal space.” Not to mention Kenneth Branagh, who can always be counted upon to charm and chill in equal measure. Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Melanie McMinn.

Videos are downloaded with permission of You Tube.  I provided a link to Amazon in case you would like to purchase a DVD of Wallander. Remember that anything you buy within 24 hours of using a link from this site benefits A Traveler’s Library, but does not cost you any extra. Magic, isn’t it?

Do you watch Masterpiece Mystery Theater if you are in the U.S.? Or BBC mysteries if you live elsewhere? Which detective that they feature is your favorite?


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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

23 thoughts on “Visit Ystad Sweden with Wallander

  1. I have read the books (I’m starting my second go round with them). I have the branagh Wallander and the swedish wallander vides with english subtitles. Am going to Stockholm January6 and renting a volvo (could I have found a peugeot?) to drive down through an ancestor’s town (Jonkoping) and staying at the Hotel Continental in Ystad for a night. i am hoping to tap into the starkness of the swedish winter….and wallander.

  2. Ahhhhhhh! I just discovered Wallander not too long ago and love the show and him! I thought it might be depressing, but it’s not at all. It’s just thoughtful and cool and real. And yes, Kenneth Branagh is awesome, and the settings are wonderful.

  3. This sounds interesting! KB is such a great actor, too. I think the suspense part of this series is one I could tolerate…not going to see Tattoo because of what I hear is the violence factor, which I don’t like one bit.

    1. Oh thank you so much for sharing that link to your article about the Viking burial ground. I am fascinated by the VIkings and would love to see that area of Sweden!

  4. I’ve heard about Luther. In an interview Idris talked about how he landed the part on The Wire–it was just supposed to be a few episodes but he was so memorable, he became a regular. He also masked the fact that he was English during the audition. I guess the director said he only wanted to be authentic–but Idris shows what great acting can do

    1. The poignancy of Wallander is he struggles along like the rest of us. He doesn’t get his act together in some heroic way and become Chief of Police or some Swedish equivalent.

  5. My husband is Swedish, so we watched this whole series last year. He really enjoyed it, I felt lukewarm. Kind of irritated by Wallander that he cannot get his act together. While I enjoy KB, his endless excessive brooding also got on my nerves. Still, I enjoyed your take. And, pen4hire, I thought the third movie of Dragon Tatoo series was way better. I did not read the books, but I heard they were better in translation.

  6. My husband keeps asking if I want to read the ‘Wallander’ books and I’m always telling him it’s the incredible set design that keeps me watching — that and the crazy amazing cinematography. I read Ystad’s tourism trade from England has exploded since this series started, too.

  7. I love a good television series that also has good music. The last one I actually purchased music for was “Six Feet Under.” This sounds like a good show!

  8. Another shouldn’t miss BBC detective series that breaks the mould is Luther starring Idris Elba who many may recognize as Stringer Bell from “The Wire”. What you may not know is that Idris is most definitely British, no matter how convincingly he played a drug king pin from Baltimore. In Luther he plays a brilliant, but troubled cop with an unsettling relationship with an unlikely criminal.

    1. Thanks again, Melanie. We’re gong to stick with the Masterpiece Mysteries and wish they’d play them more often instead of just in the summer in the US of A. I really loved the Aurelio Zen mysteries. We have a new series in our recorder right now and I can’t remember for sure what it is.

  9. I’d visit Ystad (or just about anywhere else in Scandinavia) with Wallender (or just about anyone else).

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