Sunday, 7 November 2010

Wallander: 'the secret'

I’ve been following the re-broadcast first series of the Swedish version of Wallander on bbc4. I also saw ‘Side-tracked’, the first of the Kenneth Branagh English language versions, last night (do I need to get out more?!)
Both are very good, but there are some uniquely intriguing qualities in the Swedish version, qualities indeed common to all authentic foreign language drama. It feels properly rooted in the local community of Ystad. I like hearing the Swedish language spoken - don’t know it at all, have to follow the subtitles - but it gives you that pleasant feeling of being exposed to and absorbing something unfamiliar and novel, like foreign cuisine. And I love the under-stated-ness of the Swedish actors performances.
Last week was the last of 13 episodes, called ‘the secret’ - tackling the topic of child abuse. It packed a big emotional punch; and I’m interested why.
Stefan, a character we’d got to know over the series, had an aggressive style of policing and a tumultuous, impetuous nature - prone to occasional violence. I recall from earlier episodes being amused sometimes by his take no prisoners style of questioning suspects.
But in this episode, tragedy strikes. Though meant to be on leave to get professional help, he gets embroiled in a case involving child abuse. Aids and abets a friend in killing the man who’d abused the friend’s son. His colleague and friend Linda, daughter of the eponymous Kurt Wallander, tries to offer him some support while he’s on compulsory leave. Stefan has already said if he can’t work he’ll go mad, and she drives this point home by telling her father that Stefan’s job is the only thing that means anything to him. Round at her flat one night, he confides that he’s never felt so lonely. So we know he’s a man on the edge, but don’t quite understand why. And then we see him in a scene with a gun threatening to blow the head off an ex cop under suspicion of implication in the child abuse, who, somehow knowing Stefan’s no murderer, leaves him in a state of clear anguish. And it transpires through flashbacks that Stefan was as a boy himself abused by this man. Stefan loses the struggle against these personal demons that have been uncaged, and one evening Linda comes to his flat and finds that he’s taken his own life. The discovery of the photograph lying next to him, of Stefan as a boy, taken by the abuser, floods Linda with the realisation of the past pain that has made Stefan the troubled man he is, and she breaks down. And when Kurt tells her Stefan was ‘not suitable for police work’, she remonstrates with him for his ignorance, insensitivity and not having listened to Stefan, and exits, leaving Kurt to discover for himself the photo which unveils the tragic truth, and break down in tears himself.
A full exploration of the insights gleaned and questions raised by what one reviewer called ‘this extraordinarily rich and absorbing drama’ would need another whole post or three.