Barbara Pezzotti New Zealand
Some lucky British TV watchers will find the Young Montalbano TV show, a spin-off of the acclaimed Montalbano series (adapted from the popular novels by Andrea Camilleri) under their Christmas trees. Following the huge success of the cinematic adventures of the Sicilian police inspector interpreted by Luca Zingaretti (whose last series has screened this year on BBC4) the British broadcast will now show the prequel – featuring Michele Riondino – on Saturday nights starting from next spring.
Camilleri’s books follow the adventures of an increasingly ageing Montalbano grappling with melancholy and regrets, struggling with an obtuse police commissioner, Bonetti-Alderighi, and fighting with an on-off girl-friend, Livia, who wants more commitment but finds it very hard to get. The screenwriters for this new series therefore had to search through a number of Camilleri’s short stories and references to Montalbano’s past in order to reconstruct a plausible character. The Italian spectators responded enthusiastically to their portrayal (more than 7 million people watched the first episode) and there is no reason why this success won’t be replicated among the Brits.
At first sight, this endeavour sounds more conservative than more audacious spin offs, such as the TV series “Bones” where the protagonist, a young Temperance Brennan, shares very little with her paper (and more conventional) version; or the TV series featuring a teenage Superman struggling with homework and his first crushes. Is that so? This operation also aims at milking the extraordinary popularity of Inspector Montalbano among crime readers and viewers in Italy and abroad. There is nothing wrong with that. But does it add anything new to the Montalbano saga? Does it provide a new perspective, maybe? Or does it offer an effective representation of Sicilian life in the 1970s before the murderous internecine struggles of the Corleonesi, the confessions of Buscetta and the investigations by Falcone and Borsellino?
In reviewing the original Montalbano TV series, James Donaghy makes a comparison between Swedish and Italian/Sicilian crime fiction. He comments that the setting is very different. Indeed, “it’s the difference between opening a freezer door and an oven door” The dissimilarity, however, is not just climatic. “There are no enigmatic silences or blank stares. Everybody says exactly what they’re thinking, loudly and often: it came as no surprise in a recent episode to find Montalbano monologuing to an empty chair, as if he were Clint Eastwood”. In an ideal struggle between Nordic restraint and Southern “operatic gestures”, as Donaghy puts it, does Riondino reiterate the muscular interpretation of the Sicilian sleuth performed by Zingaretti? Is the comic element preserved?
While the British audience will find out in a few months, viewers in the Antipodes are destined to wait for longer. So please, Italian crime fiction enthusiasts, don’t leave us in the dark. If you have already seen the series, share your thoughts with us. This will be our Christmas present.