Tuesday, 10 November 2009

BBC's Sweden

The BBC has just made a television adaptation of Henning Menkel’s novels, starring Kenneath Branaugh as Kurt Wallander. I’m not sure now the rest of the world views it but from Sweden it looks completely bizarre. This is a TV series set in Sweden, filmed in Sweden, where all the characters are meant to be Swedish, and yet the whole thing is in English.

The contradiction is hardly seemless with Swedish names constantly being mispronounced. For example “skana” for Skåne (actual pronunciation is “skor-na”) and “nor-co-ping” for Norrköping (“norr-sha-ping”). Having gone to the trouble to film the series on location in Sweden, why didn’t they just ask someone for advice on pronunciation?

Another glaring inconsistency is when the characters watch TV or listen to the radio it is in English, but newspapers and Internet sites are in Swedish. When Wallander is on his computer he talks in English yet simultaneously types in Swedish.

Language is not the only thing that has been changed. The last episode I saw was about a young boy from an impoverish family who was going around scalping people. In the Swedish television adaptation of this same book the young boy lives in a glum urban housing estates as would be expected of an impoverish family. But in the BBC version they are transported to a typically Swedish wooden house in the countryside, the sort most commonly inhabited by wealthy Swedes on summer holidays. The only indicators of a less affluent lifestyle is a slightly messy living room. I cannot think of any good reason for this change other than it is more in accordance with how British people view Sweden.

I suppose when you’re living in an English speaking country you don’t think about it. Wallander speaking English is no more bizarre than Roman soldiers in Hollywood epics speaking English. Or aliens from over a million light years away speaking English. “’Allo ‘allo!” would have you believe that the French speak English with bad accents. And I’ve seen plenty of Swedish television shows where characters end up in 18th century China, or meet Amazon hill tribes, to find everyone speaks fluent Swedish.

But having said that films do not have to be in the native tongue of the audience to be enjoyable. I always thought it was a shame that Mel Gibson had to go on his drunken fascist rant right after he released Apocalypto as this ensured the film never received the praised it deserved. To make the film as authentic as possible he revived the dying Yucatec language. Even Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, a film so fantastical that it involves a small band of American soldiers single-handedly killing Hitler and ending the Second World War, ensures characters speak their native languages until a convenient (if sometimes lame) excuse is found for switching to English.

The BBC could have solved all these language issues by relocated the series to England. There is nothing distinctively Swedish about Menkel’s novels and they could easily have been transported. The only sign of Swedish culture is the fact that the characters are often carrying a thermos of coffee and constantly stopping for coffee breaks, but again this has been removed from the British version. The BBC is essentially relying on Sweden to create an exotic location. Hence the reason for the change in setting: Red wooden houses next to lakes are exotic, council estates are not. Typing with letters like Å or Ö is far more interesting than A and O. Once you remove the location you’re just left with another Sunday night crime drama.


Anonymous said...

Channel7 have been showing those Wallanders here NIc. They are dreadful. There's a Swedish series of Wallanders on sbs that's ok. Not great but ok, but that bbc version is terrible. They seem to have been badly dubbed into English too.
Have you watched 'The Wire'?

Nellie said...

You probably don't read the comments anymore but anyway, I just found your blog and I have to say that I've had lots of fun reading it.. Too bad that you don't seem to write anymore!

It's been especially interesting to read it because I'm myself half Swedish and planning to go to live in Australia for a while.. :)