As a huge fan of Henning Mankell’s dour Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander (so much so that I have a tattoo of a line from one of the titans of Scandi-crime’s books on my shoulder), I was excited to check out the new Young Wallander series on Netflix.
The trailer did not fill me with hope, but I argued to myself that it’s only a small snippet of what was to come. When the series finally dropped I was eager to get started, but I soon realised that it wasn’t what I’d expected.
Mankell wrote a series of short stories about his protagonist’s origins, called The Pyramid. Set in the 1970s, the series follows Wallander as he starts out in the force and shows his burgeoning relationship with his wife, who would later leave him. It also shows the struggles at the time, including the racism and social divisions that were a key fixture of Mankell’s novels set during the height of Wallander’s career.
I’d expected that the TV series would use these stories as its base, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, the show used a later novel, The Man Who Smiled, as the basis for it’s plot, but the similarities were so slight that it took me about 5 episodes to realise. It’s only small elements, but given the fact that the series was produced by Yellow Bird, the production company that helped with the Swedish series with Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh’s English version, it’s clear that these coincidences were deliberate. After all, Mankell consulted with the company on the initial two series while he was still alive, so it makes sense that they’ve done this as some kind of weird tribute.
Unfortunately, by filming it in Lithuania and filling the cast with a motely crew of British and European actors, none of whom can do a Swedish accent to save their lives, Young Wallander turns into a very poor tribute to the author. Wallander in this series is nothing like the version in the novels or the original shows that inspired so many to become fans of this intellectual detective. The boy in the show is nothing like the man he’s supposed to be becoming; he’s much less intellectual and has far too much nervous energy.
He’d never become the jaded detective of Henning Mankell’s incredible novels, who was committed to fighting crime but world-weary at the same time. He used his wits and intelligence, as well as his gut feelings; this new, younger version only uses his hunches. His guesses are never based on anything, whereas the real Kurt Wallander always had a reason, even if it was vague and based on something that had happened a while ago.
Also, this new character that Netflix has dreamed up is far too polite to be Wallander. That might sound unkind, but part of the character’s charm is that he’s gruff and grumpy, and that, while he understands the psychology of violence and crime, he struggles to connect on a basic level with others.
The version in this TV show is friendly, happy and great with people. The version of his love interest, Mona, who becomes Kurt’s wife in the novels, is also wrong. She’s the only other recognisable character from the books, and she’s far too conscientious. She’s also too happy with Kurt- in the novels, Kurt was always much more in love with the idea of Mona, and she was simply angry that he was never present around her. In the TV version, the pair actually make a great couple, which means that the premise isn’t sustainable (in the books they have one daughter, then divorce when she’s young).
Many online commentators have been quick to point out that the series should be taken as a unique entity in its own right. However, I’d argue that since it’s based on a series of world-famous novels, the creators of the show have an obligation to create a series that honours the books, or at the very least vaguely resembles them.
Completely ignoring them is pointless- why didn’t they just create a new character? The answer, I suspect, is that they wanted viewers to come expecting Wallander. Unfortunately, what we got was a very poor facsimile that doesn’t hold a candle to the novels or any of the three preceding TV series.
That being said, I would still have hated Young Wallander even if it hadn’t used the name of a character that I love. The show is poorly plotted to the point where it barely makes any sense. The ending is perhaps the worst ending in a crime fiction show that I’ve seen in many years, and that’s saying something!
To sum up, I wouldn’t recommend Young Wallander to anyone, whether you’re an avid Mankell fan like me or just someone looking for something to watch to keep yourself busy. There are so many other, much better shows on Netflix that are worth your time more than this.