The last time Kenneth Branagh turned up at a TCA event, he was promoting HBO’s “As You Like It,” a project that he directed and for which he provided the script adaptation from the original Shakespeare play. This time, however, he’s in front of the camera, starring as the titular character in “Wallander,” the “Masterpiece Mystery!” production based on Henning Mankell’s novels about Swedish police inspector Kurt Wallander.
There have been plenty of “Wallander” films made in Sweden, but this is the first time the books have received an adaptation for an English-language audience, and given how many Wallander adventures there are (eight novels, several short stories), this has the potential to be a lengthy gig for Branagh.
But does he want such a gig?
“I’d certainly be very, very happy to make some more of them,” he said. “I get rather superstitious about assuming the audiences may want to watch it for years to come. I think that when we approached it, we were very aware of how many excellent detective stories there have been on television and that we had to really earn our right to be there. There are another seven books that could potentially be adapted. And I think we would very much like to and are very much looking forward to planning another three. But when we all met as a creative team just before Christmas and had a chance to sort of debrief after the screening of the three films in the UK, I think we were very thrilled with the reaction, which had been very positive, and very excited about that, but we did feel there was an enormous amount of work still do, excitingly to do, in terms of developing the character. So I think we’ll just…if we’re lucky and, as my mother would say, if God spares us, we’ll take the next three, if we can, and do them and hopefully learn from some of the things that we wanted to develop on this time. Whether that then develops into years to come remains to be seen.”
Branagh’s “Wallander” co-star, Tom Hiddleston (who plays Martinsson), showed his age when discussing how the two had worked together briefly in the 2001 TV production, “Conspiracy.”
“I had a small part playing the phone operator, so I was actually on the set for six weeks, watching him work,” said Hiddleston. “Basically, it was my first professional job, so I had very few lines, but I sat behind my phone-operating desk, watching the performances of Ken and Stanley Tucchi, Colin Firth, and a great cast of Brits. I’ve never said this to you before, but I was terrified, because I watched ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ when I was…”
“Easy with the age thing, Tom,” warned Branagh.
“Sorry, sorry,” apologized Hiddleston. “But, you know, I was the teenager growing up and starting to act and, you know, I knew quite early on that I wanted to be an actor. And I suppose Ken was like…he was making British films that I wanted to be in, and he was the guy. And I saw ‘Hamlet’ when I was 16. That’s another age thing. I apologize. But it was a great thrill to be allowed to work with one of the best actors that we have in the UK, I think, and to act with him as well and not just be directed by him. It was great.”
Fans of the original novels will be pleased to learn that the dark grittiness has successfully transitioned to the television adaptation…or, at least, that’s what I took from Hiddleston’s statement that it opens with a scalping and Branagh’s reference to a girl dousing herself in gasoline and setting herself afire.
“I found that image in the book, that particular image, very striking and haunting,” said Branagh. “But as often is the case, on reflection when we came to do it and when I was working on the script and looking at that sequence, much more was suggested than was explicit. And it’s true also on the TV, that we were inspired by that, trying to suggest and leave room for the imagination of the audience, so it will go to as dark a place as they care to go, I suppose. I think the seeds are there for that to
work in that way.”
“Wallander” premieres this summer – exact date TBD as of this writing – on PBS.