75 years of Henning Mankell – How does Wallander really tick? – Culture


Doubter, genius, bore? Henning Mankell’s character, Kurt Wallander, is portrayed very differently in the film.

Kurt Wallander is a grumpy loner. No wonder the chief inspector is constantly bleary-eyed. His job robs him of his sleep and keeps him reaching for the whiskey bottle. The quiet ponderer and doubter can therefore sometimes become surprisingly loud.

This is how writer Henning Mankell describes his Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander. In eleven volumes, the Swedish writer sent the character through a gloomy and sad Sweden. When Mankell died in 2014, the novel series ended as well.

Henning Mankell: King of Swedish Crime Fiction

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IMAGO / Sven Simon

Alongside Sieg Larsson, Henning Mankell is one of Sweden’s most successful crime writers.

Mankell wrote eleven novels with Wallander as the main character and one in which his daughter Linda Wallander is the central character.

In his books, the writer paints a bleak picture of Sweden, which is characterized by social inequality, violence and xenophobia.

Mankell himself was involved as a screenwriter on the Swedish TV series “Mankells Wallander”. Only one of the episodes is based on one of Wallander’s novels, all the others tell new stories.

Henning Mankell died in 2015 at the age of 67 after suffering from cancer.

Wallander was also used in cinemas and TV. Swedish television produced a series of films, there is also a Swedish-German TV series and the British BBC had Wallander investigated in another TV series.

The three different actors who slip into Wallander’s role in these productions interpret the character true to the novel, yet in very different ways.

Rolf Lassgård: The disheveled broodler

Swedish actor Rolf Lassgård played the inspector in nine films between 1997 and 2007. His Wallander trudges through the desolate Swedish town of Ystad with slumped shoulders and a sad look. His hands are always stuck in the pockets of a coat that is a bit too big, his hairdo is tousled.

A man in a black coat looks into the camera with slightly narrowed eyes.


In the films with Rolf Lassgård, Kurt Wallander is a lonely, withdrawn person.

IMAGO / Horst Galuschka

Lassgårds Wallander is particularly closed. He doesn’t get along well with other people – not with his daughter and certainly not with his colleagues.

Although Wallander is gentle and quiet, he can become short-tempered and impatient. The always overtired detective is no master detective – without the help of his colleagues he would hardly solve a case.

Krister Henriksson: The spoiled official

The inspector in the Swedish TV series “Mankels Wallander” also slips through the fingers. Krister Henriksson plays a somewhat restless and almost carefree Wallander.

Man in a beige trench coat in front of a car.


Henning Mankell wrote the screenplays for most of the 32 episodes of the “Mankells Wallander” series. The Swede Krister Henriksson plays the main character.

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Henriksson is more upright than the stooped Lassgård, wears a tight parting and beige trench coats. His Wallander is more confident with himself and other people. He, too, can suddenly become loud, towards his daughter, who is also a police officer, he is also a boring teacher at times.

Kenneth Branagh: The Deft Nose

Finally, the Northern Irishman Kenneth Branagh played Wallander. The Oscar winner and Shakespeare expert gives a multi-layered and nuanced Wallander. Branagh makes the Swedish commissioner a bit more approachable and personable.

Man in elegant suit sits in a tram with a serious look.


A Northern Irishman in southern Sweden: The English series “Wallander” with Kenneth Branagh was filmed in Ystad.

IMAGO / Everett Collection

In the BBC series, Wallander is more energetic and has a keen detective instinct. Branaghs Wallander sports an immaculate three-day stubble and perfectly fitting vestons. This suits the series, where everything is a little cooler and more stylish than in the Swedish films – but also a little smoother.

Wallander’s opaque inner life leaves room for interpretation. That is why the three Wallanders, despite all the differences, do not contradict the original novels.

And that’s why the novel character remains exciting for further reinterpretations almost ten years after Mankell’s death: A Swedish-English co-production is currently exploring the inner life of young Kurt Wallander on Netflix.

Radio SRF 2 Kultur, film podcast: Cinema in the head, January 28, 2023, 8:30 a.m.

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