OT: Life lessons for Servetus from the Branagh Wallander

Last year, the discs my friend and colleague the former Cambridge professor pressed into my hand before his annual peregrination to Merrie Olde England for the winter solstice were North & South. (More about that soon, I do promise. That post has been underway for weeks and hard to write.) This year, he proffered up the first three episodes of the BBC’s Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh, before he rolled his briefcase out of the building. I’ve long been a fan of these books; I read them in German along with, one suspects, basically every other literate German — they were huge, huge bestsellers there before most of the English-speaking world had heard of Henning Mankell. I also suspect that Mankell prepared a path for the huge successes of Stieg Larsson, whose books I enjoyed though I don’t feel much personal identification with Lisbeth Salander (I admire her, though, the way I do Ros). I don’t think these films are as good as the books — that’s setting a very high bar — but Servetus never thinks the film is as good as the book, or almost never, and these films are excellent by any standard.

1. From “Sidetracked,” the first film. Wallander (Branagh) confesses to his father (played by David Warner) that he doesn’t think he can continue as a policeman:

2. From “Firewall,” the second film. The soon-to-be divorced Wallander (Branagh) is out on a date with Ella (Orla Brady), whom he met via a computer dating profile created by his daughter. He can’t stop thinking about work, and the conversation turns serious:

3. From “Firewall.” Wallander’s daughter, Linda (Jeany Spark) apologizes for setting him up with Ella (about whom I won’t say more in case you want to watch the film):

I’ve long seen myself reflected — uncomfortably — in the character of Wallander. From my perspective, the identification came because Wallander so consistently fails at everything. He’s too late; he doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do; he fails the people who love him most; he knows what he has to do to change and yet he can’t manage it. And even at work — the thing for which he saves all of his energy — he’s so often wrong, so often too late, so often incapable of finding justice for the crime victims he serves. I’m putting these pieces here as distillations to remind myself of stuff I don’t want to forget. If / when this blog ends, the last clip could probably serve as a postscript to it. Even experiences that begin in failure, or end in aporia, teach us important things. Last year around this time, a face I saw on a screen — Mr. Armitage — shocked me into the realization that I’m still alive.

~ by Servetus on December 27, 2010.

31 Responses to “OT: Life lessons for Servetus from the Branagh Wallander”

  1. I have difficulty dealing with this statement, “From my perspective, the identification came because Wallander so consistently fails at everything. He’s too late; he doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do; he fails the people who love him most; he knows what he has to do to change and yet he can’t manage it. And even at work — the thing for which he saves all of his energy — he’s so often wrong, so often too late, so often incapable of finding justice for the crime victims he serves.”

    As we, regular readers of this blog, are a very bolstering, affirming group, I will let the others do just that.

    Instead I want to focus on this statement, “Last year around this time, a face I saw on a screen — Mr. Armitage — shocked me into the realization that I’m still alive.”

    I want to know what was it about THAT particular face that did that?

    I hope you can explain or I will believe I am being spookd.


    • I’m not looking for pity or reassurance — I know it’s probably tiring for you to read some of this stuff — but part of what’s going on here is that in order to figure out what to do next I have to acknowledge my failure in this slot and figure out why I failed so that I don’t repeat it all.

      The thing about Wallander is that in the end, though he fails all the time, he’s not really a failure. He can be a hopeful figure. And he has an ethic. He knows why he is failing. As the first clip suggests it may be a human problem that in the end we can’t change certain things about ourselves as much as we might want to. Maybe we just have to accept those things, accept quotidian failures.

      And I’m trying hard to figure out why Armitage. I’m in the process of describing what happened, still. I have some glimpses. I’ll do my best.


      • The quest for knowledge, about ourselves, our world, whatever is to be encouraged and commended. Please know that I was not being dismissive of your search for the why in your life at present. I know that, having lived a tad over a half-century, I have a different opinion about things than I certainly did in my “younger days”. I don’t see things as failures or successes as much anymore. I see the hand of divine guidance gently steering me to or away form things. What I used to perceive as “failure” was a gently hand saying “not this way…” and “try this instead”. I do not know why you consider your present situation a possible failure and I am not prying. I’ve written before about change and your imminent change is one of the reasons I am keeping you close in my prayers. Be brave, be open and trust in the divine (for me it was the hardest thing to do as I felt unworthy, still do sometimes).

        My reason for being interested in your awakening through the lovely Mr. Armitage is that I firmly believe that an element of your search and therefore, an answer, lies in the analysis of your RA experience.

        If you aren’t sure, let me say it here, I do care.


        • I know that — Ann Marie — and I really thank you for your caring. I also agree that the current failure is a sign I need to be somewhere else. I just wish I knew where 🙂

          And you’re dead right about the analysis of the Armitage experience. More about that soon.


          • Last comment from me here: the last lesson I learned about change and trust was that when I tried to drive the bus of change it took IMMEASURABLY longer to get where I was supposed to be. Gas it up, check the tires and have change for the tolls and then get in the passenger seat and let G-d drive. He is much better at it and knows where the road hazards are. that is the end of my corny, yet very apt, cliche. I share it because it works, every time.


        • Finally getting caught up a bit. My head is still a bit woozy but hopefully, this makes sense.

          I do relate to some of how you feel, Servetus.

          I’ve spent much of my life feeling unworthy; there’s a part of me that, when people praise me for my work or talent or what a nice lady I am, that thinks, “Oh, but if you really knew me . . .”

          OK, so I do feel this way, and maybe most all of us do at one time or another, but it’s gotten better over the years. I agree with Ann Marie. At 50, I no longer concentrate so much on successes or failures, but on what I can hopefully glean from my experiences, good, bad, indifferent.

          Hopefully they mold me into a better person in the long run. And I hope to keep growing and evolving as a human being as long as I am alive and have some degree of a functioning mind. And that means change and change is scary.

          Some things I simply have no control over in life; some things I do. It’s my reaction, my response that I can control. I have FMS. Didn’t ask for it, don’t want it. I have a genetic predisposition to depression; not keen on that either, but since I don’t quibble over my inherited pluses, I might as well try to accept the inherited minuses, too.

          Facing this career change for you has to be a bit overwhelming at times. The Great Unknown. It is fascinating to think Mr. A was the possible catalyst for you making this life-changing experience.

          Considering he is the one who also led me into the very satisfying and enjoyable foray into fiction writing and the decision to write that novel this year (breath, Angie, breath)–I am interested in your analysis of how “that face” impacted you.

          What is it about this one particular actor?

          At any rate, I wish you all the best in the future, no matter where that path may lead you. Like Ann Marie and many, many others, I care.


          • Wow. You’re going to write that novel? I’m definitely along for this ride!

            I was tempted to write to Ann Marie “you don’t know all the ways in which I’ve failed,” but right now I am trying to mine the failures for seeds of future ventures.


            • I’m excited and terrified and eager and anxious all at once over the thought of penning an original work, Servetus, but I am not getting any younger, and I don’t want to look back ten years from now and say, “If only . . .” People here and elsewhere have been so encouraging and that means a lot. Spouse is ready for me to take another step.
              I’ve seen seen my name in bylines and on magazine stories; now I want to take it a step further (although I may choose a nom de plume . . . Barrett Brewer, anyone?)

              Remember the life story of Abraham Lincoln. How many failures did he have in life–in personal relationships, business, politics–before he made it to the White House? (OK, overlook the crazy wife and death of a child and the fact he got assassinated) . . . anyway, what I wanted to say is he seemed to be someone who did “mine the failures for seeds of future ventures.” Nice turn of phrase, that.


              • Thanks. There’s a famous German poem with a line that translates roughly “every ending includes a beginning” and that’s what I am looking for.

                I feel like the world of novel publishing is now opening up so much. People have many new ways to find readers and some self-publishers have forced themselves to the attention of conventional presses, e.g.: http://www.anthropologyofanamericangirl.com/book.html


                • Publishing does seem to be opening up in ways that weren’t there a few years ago (I am sure e-publishing has had an influence). I just read about that novel and now I think I need to read it as it sounds like something that would interest me.

                  Add it on top of my long, long list. So many books, so many writing ideas . . . well, it keeps my mind active and may ward off me going gaga in my later years. Maybe.


                  • It’s an interesting story. People followed it on a blog for a long time; then she self published; then it got picked up by the publisher (which insisted on some huge cuts — iirc 600 pp or something like that). It’s a good novel, but / and it is a bit fanficcy — the prose doesn’t have the clear coherence of a more disciplined novel. On the other hand, the language and description are wonderfully evocative. I wondered myself whether I could write something like it.


  2. Yes, he’s not a failure, but a successful detective in his world. I’m a fan of the Wallander books, and also the Swedish TV series,both series, and I very much like Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Wallander. I actually like the character because he’s flawed and both his personal life and work life are a challenge and nothing is tied up in a neat package. I really had an emotional connection with the father/son interaction in the last Branagh series we’ve seen in the US, and the helplessness of both men.

    I think we have to accept that there are things in life that are out of our control, the thing is to keep going, to find different paths…to not give up…

    Richard Armitage so far in his career has played rather brooding, imperfect, conflicted characters, and even Lucas North was not really in control. So I’m curious also Servetus, why Richard Armitage?


  3. I think I identified with Wallander’s obsessive carefulness — the methodical way Mankell recorded what Wallander did as he allowed his brain to work through the complexities of a case. He wasn’t a failure so much as just slow. And now that I think about it, clearly I was using him to work through the same kinds of issues you were working through. Isn’t it interesting that you saw him as a failure (although I realize he saw himself as a failure) while I saw him as careful and methodical? I’m smiling as I imagine the disjunction between our perceptions of the man.


    • Yeah — what I took away from those long pondering sequences of turning the details over in his head again and again was that his thinking was always too slow — as you know, paradigmatic of my experience: not willing to jump to conclusions, and thus can’t come to judgment fast enough. People are always getting murdered because he realizes what’s happening just a little bit too late.


  4. Before we analyze the magic out of RA, let me just wonder if we would be so enthralled with him had we seen something other than North & South first, if we had met him some other place than in 19th century England. To my mind, Servetus captures the essence of my obsession with the fanvid Confession. There Guy is obsessed with Marian (me). The terrible seriousness, the soul destroying yearning, the panting sexuality, the caring, the jealousy (of the darn horse).

    So, had we met him in the teeny-bopper Robin Hood where Sir Guy is the only adult star, or the slick city spies as Lucas, or the soldier of Strike Back, or farmer boy Standring would we be so besotted?

    Someone mentoned the “Saviour theme” and I see him as a saviour. Being nearly 70 years olf I spend a lot of time thinking of things such as cremation or burial, what will the kids do when I’m dust/mud, how much longer do I have, will today be the last. Then I saw Armitage and my heart sang/sings, my lips smile. I have hope again. I feel that whatever happens, at least I have seen him and heard his voice.
    It is said that after the American Civil War former slaves counted themselves blessed to have shaken Lincoln’s hand. Well, I have the same feeling about RA though I have never been physically near him. He is the true fountain of youth. Nothing else can touch him for bringing the light. Now is the winter of our discontent made summer by this glorious son of leistershire.


    • Ah, but Mary Lou, I DID meet him first as Guy. I feel into total besottedness with him as Guy by the end of S2. JT only came later, after the crush was in full force. I watched him as John S., John T. and Harry K. in quick succession after discovering him as Guy and was blown away by his amazing talents.

      Mr. Thornton is not my favorite RA character; Guy is, and then Lucas/Porter, and probably Harry, and then Thornton. So it’s not that I am in love with the very correct Victorian in a cravat named Thornton (some fans actually prefer Thornton to the real RA, apparently); I am totally enthralled, it seems, with the magic of this amazing actor and very interestingm intelligent, articulate, charming and beautiful human being known as Richard Armitage.

      I have never felt about another performer the way I feel about him, and doubt I ever will. He inspires, encourages, intrigues and amuses me–he is my muse.

      I do agree, absolutely, the man is like a fountain of youth. I am younger than you, Mary Lou, but still have days I feel very old and tired (today was one of them) but RA has the ability to lift me up, make me smile, give me hope and light and laughter.

      He is–magical.


      • Angie, Angie, Angie,

        Right on sister! All of it! Muse, magical…I for awhile. Thornton piqued my interest as I saw N&S first about a year ago during the blizzard. I started researching and found Robin Hood and Spooks (figuring out the Spooks/MI-5 correlation took some doing!). Everything was cool until I started RH and that black-haired, blue-eyed, swaggering, leather-clad, velvet voiced fallen angel walked into my life and things have not been the same since. Gobsmacked doesn’t begin to describe it…and I’ve used up all the appropriate adjectives. I’ve stopped looking for an explanation and have just accepted it because it makes me happy. And causes my hub to regularly roll his eyes which I wouldn’t give up for the world. 🙂


        • Ah, Ann Marie, I knew you’d understand. *grin* I do suspect if Guy had been in another, lesser actor’s hands, I might have passed him by as yet another cardboard baddie in a rather cheesy kiddy show and that would have been that.

          But it was the combination of the physical gorgeousness with the smouldering sensuality and the vulnerability glimpsed beneath the proud swagger–the little boy longing to be accepted, loved and to be able to trust–that just slayed me. Only Richard could have brought all that to the table IMHO. Guy is like a magificent fallen angel, isn’t he? *swoon*

          Discovering sweet, shy John S., beautiful, brooding Victorian John T. and the funny, sunny Harry K. just cemented my wonder and awe at his talent and versatility. And then came lovely, damaged, heroic Lucas and brave, flawed soldier and father John Porter and all the other characters, each with the special stamp of a Master at work . . .

          I don’t really worry anymore about why I like and adore him so much, either. I just do and that’s that.

          My husband does his share of eye-rolling and shaking his head and murmuring about his “crazed wife” and that “poor Armitage fellow with all those crazy women stalking him”–but hey, he knows it makes me happy and keeps my creative juices flowing, and we both agree, that is a good thing!!


  5. Bravo, Mary Lou! Well said on all counts. (Us old gals have this thing figured out?!) Well, maybe. Kind of. We’re working on it?

    The old saying, “when G-d closes a door, He opens a window” is so true. About 12 years ago, I felt so bad. The program that I supervised at the High School was discontinued due to its high cost. I didn’t absolutely HAVE to have the job but it did help with our 2 son’s college expenses and I loved working with my colleques. The administration hnadled the situation very unprofessionaly and I took it personally. I couldn’t believe that I had been treated so badly..ha! About six months later, my daddy passed, a month later our middle son had to have an emergency op, 2 mos. after that, I had an emergency hysterectomy, and 4 mos. after that, my mother-in-law had a massive heart attack being hospitilized 120 miles away. I was the only one who could stay with her…and be with our son…and fly to be with my dad. All those circumstances would’ve been nearly impossible to deal with had I continued working at the school. About midway thru it all, it dawned on me that G-d knew what He was doing! Wow! What a concept!! At that point, I decided to follow instead of trying to figure it out on my own. Easier said than done, right?! I will praying for your wisdom and peace of mind.


    • Thanks for the affirming story — despite all the tragedy involved — and I agree with you. My inabilities in this position point to the need for something else, and Armitage has been an index of that in some ways.

      Thanks for your prayers.


  6. NovemberBride thank you for your prayers. The wisdom bit will require miracles, but Armitage gives me peace. He also helps my daughter get through her present turmoil. As for husband eye-rolling, I know all about it.

    Anne Marie you have given the perfect word picture of our hero, “black-haired, blue-eyed, swaggering, leather-clad, velvet voiced fallen angel walked into my life and things have not been the same since. Gobsmacked ” yes, I am gobsmacked. Guysmacked? Guy Guy Guy Oh, Sir Guy.


  7. Can I just say one more thing…I was watching Robin Hood Season 1 and watching Sir Guy ride. Talk about evolution! The smooth, confident, completely sexy way he rides in Season 3 just makes me say, Holy Mother of G-d! The posture, the posting, the leg and thigh control. The whole package, truly a thing of beauty. I try not to gush but I was just reminded of how uncomfortable he was in Season 1 on a horse (I believe he even said that in an interview). I watched season 3 to remind myself what practice and determination can do. I admire him for overcoming his initial, if not fear, reticence. Having been thrown off a horse, nay I will use the word STEED, in Ireland and been pretty badly crumpled (really the most apt descriptor) he had reason to be wary. Kudos to him because watching him ride up the hill on a white horse next to Robin in S3 IMHO made it all worthwhile.

    I am up late because Guy has another story he wants told….I can’t type as fast as he can talk!


    • Guy evolved in so many ways through the series, not just at the scriptwriters’ hands (because sometimes they were totally, well–)but chiefly through Richard’s wonderful and unceasing dedication to the part, absolutely.

      Guy became more human, more complex, more poignant, more gorgeous and more drop-dead sexy. Richard kicked it up a notch each series, and my gosh, yes–how positively princely and magnificent he was to behold in S3 astride a horse! And of course, let us not forget that wonderful gait and posture as he exited Nottingham Castle, just before declaring he would return to Marian’s side in S2–oh. My. He went a long way, baby, from early Guy, and what a pleasure and wonder to watch him evolve . . .
      oh, and was Robin in that scene with him?? I never noticed. *giggle*

      Ann Marie, you must obey the muse that is Guy–he will badger you to death if you don’t!!


    • Agree. You can see him getting better and better. That in itself is a skill — learning new things is a capacity that has to be cultivated and many people leave it behind at a much younger age than he has.


  8. Ahh! Sneaky thing, you! You’ve learned a bit of Swedish? 😀 (Speaking of which, are the Rosetta Stone courses any good? Hubby wants to learn the language to communicate better with my folks. :))

    BBC have been showing the Krister Henriksson Wallander, but most recently, it was the Rolf Lassgård ones. As a Swede, seeing Branagh and the others playing Swedish characters in Sweden is really bizarre and doesn’t quite work, because they’re all walking around talking English pretending to be Swedes and mispronouncing everything all the time. (I’m such a snob, but “Ishta”? Seriously? Ystad is pronounced “Yyy-stah”! Unless you’re from that part of Sweden, when it’s pronounced “Ey-stah”. Sometimes the D on the end isn’t even silent.) But ASIDE from that, it’s a good show. Haven’t read the books, but crime fiction in general is huge in Sweden. It’s probably the country’s most imported genre from British TV. 🙂


    • I thought the Rosetta Stone Swedish was pretty good, BUT it is heavily focused on being able to speak Swedish, which wasn’t my primary need. I needed to be able to read scholarly secondary literature in history on my period, and the relatively few published vernacular texts of a particular century, so what I probably needed more was some coaching in what I could get out of Swedish based on being fluent in English and German. I think it would be excellent prep if you did it faithfully for several weeks before going and then were actually forced to speak Swedish. But all of my interlocutors found it easier to speak English with me, and that was fine for my purposes. I don’t regret the investment.

      I wondered how a Swedish person would respond to the fact that the English actors don’t make any attempt to pronounce proper nouns correctly. It’s problematic that they can’t even agree on a particular wrong pronunciation they are going to use.

      The books are wonderful. Really!


  9. […] rather abruptly thrust disc 1 of North & South into the DVD player there. The result, a shock: non moriar, sed vivam. That realization stunned for awhile, and then its implications began to hurt, but the message was […]


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