Grim, gritty and grainy, the Swedish television version of the detective series ‘Wallander’ has about it an authenticity and a rawness. The grey light of the flatlands of southern Sweden in shortening days has a dark moodiness providing the tone for the sharp social realism of the plot. Wallander’s battles with himself are as intense as any conflict with the criminals he investigates; struggling with the person he is and inconstant in his relationships with others, there seems a series of existential question marks.
At the close of BBC 4’s broadcast of ‘The Fifth Woman’, Wallander is left with a sense of absolute loneliness, and a strange sense of affinity with the serial killer he has investigated. As the programme draws to a close, he receives a note from the killer:
Wallander, you and I are alike.
Loners . . . prepared to go to great lengths to see our justice done.
Wallander, alienated from his family, distant from his colleagues, confused by his investigations and frightened by the violence within himself, is an undeniable loner.
There are moments when solitariness seems a mark of integrity, the classic BBC television series ‘Our Friends in the North’ concludes with a moment of loneliness. ‘Geordie’ Peacock, played by Daniel Craig, whose life had fallen apart and who had lived rough on the streets, has recovered his old self and has the opportunity to join the celebration of his affluent friends. Seeing the party, he instead walks on, turning his back forever on what seems a chance of happiness. As he strides across the Tyne Bridge, the strains of the Oasis song ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ provide a background.
Being alone, being solitary, seems now to be something feared, it seems almost a social sin not to be enthusiastic about being in the company of others; haven’t we social media to ensure that no part of day or night might be spent in isolation?
Yet there were always solitary people. In childhood years, there were old ladies in the village who seemed never more content than when in their own company. In early days in parish ministry, when Christmas was surrounded by notions from Dickens and Hollywood, it seemed unthinkable that anyone would be by themselves on the day itself. It took a firm assertion by a lady, ‘But, Ian, I like being by myself’, to realize that conversation and jollity were not everyone’s idea of happiness.
Being solitary is not about going through the angst of Wallander, nor is it being a Geordie walking away from opportunities. It’s just about being a loner.