How BBC’s Wallander Changed How I Write
We are always being guided.
When I just happened to turn on PBS a couple years ago to find BBC’s Wallander (which I had never watched before) coming on, I had no idea that it was about to change how I write.
(Note: BBC’s Wallander is a compelling series about a Swedish detective played by Ken Branagh – who has won a BAFTA TV and other awards for his performance in the series. I recently had the joy of interviewing Peter Harness, lead writer for Wallander Series 3 – you can read that here.)
To say there was something refreshingly different about how this crime drama was presented is an understatement. I was riveted.
Unlike most American crime dramas, you were not assaulted by a furious pace of brutality, blood, gore, and a predictable A to B to C race to solve the investigation. The audience was given time to think and absorb the story without it ever once losing momentum. Branagh gave a poignantly engaging performance with a depth of character not often seen in TV crime dramas. The story was set amidst stunningly beautiful landscapes where nature’s tranquility sharply contrasted against the pain and gruesomeness of Wallander’s daily life.
The writers, directors, producers and actors honored not only the audiences’ intelligence, but also the character’s integrity. They told a story about a man and didn’t manipulate him for plot or convenience. What came through was authenticity. Something the human spirit always recognizes and responds to.
Three things hit home:
1.) You can use nature as a powerful “third” character to juxtapose pain against well-being.
2.) You can completely captivate an audience, even when the character is just sitting in a chair, worrying over his vulnerability, when you allow the character to be fully himself.
3.) You can elevate any story when you focus on creating something visually and emotionally beautiful that resonates with the human spirit.
That afternoon proved to me that what I envisioned as a writer was possible to achieve. It inspired me to let my characters have their way, to trust them fully, even when what they want to do story-wise may prove unconventional. It reminded me, too, to always seek to elevate a story – any story – to its highest realm, to reach deeper into the human heart.
Would I have discovered these concepts if I hadn’t turned on the TV that afternoon? Maybe.
But I’ll forever be grateful to the entire creative team on BBC’s Wallander for lighting the path for me.