All About Montalbano - the international TV and literary hit
Montalbano and The Young Montalbano
Montalbano and The Young Montalbano are two crime series set in Sicily.
They have enjoyed huge worldwide success. And in Italy, when the series were running on tv, 45% of the Italian population viewed the dramas.
The title roles are played by two different actors, Luca Zingaretti and Michele Riondino.
Obviously the idea is that when you watch the young Montalbano it’s the same person as the older Montalbano 10 or 15 years prior to the main series. The two actors do not have a similar appearance but they do have characters which are recognizably the same. The young Monalbano looks like a saint painted by El Greco.
We are hooked on the Montalbanos
We’ve been watching young and mature Montalbano dramas, on and off, for over a year on BBC iPlayer. They make a refreshing change from the gloom of scandi-noir crime series.
The stories involve the police team in Vigata, a fictional town in Sicily based on Porto Empedocle where the author, Andrea Camilleri was born. A typical programme, like the majority of crime stories, would be based more often than not around a mysterious murder. Several things help to make these TV programmes a bit different, and more appealing than the average crime drama.
For a start, each programme is complete in itself and therefore there is a sense of closure at the end of a programme. One isn’t compelled to keep following the story night after night or week after week. It gives us, the viewer, a more relaxing approach to watching the programmes.
Sicily is a visually stunning island
All the events take place in Sicily which is visually a stunning place with remarkable hills and coastline, fantastic looking old villages and towns, and amazing mansions with extraordinary interiors. Much of it shows signs of having seen better days. The grandeur is faded but no less appealing for that.
Film crew at work in Sicilian street
The key characters, Montalbano and the young Montalbano, are very interesting men. They are mavericks, highly intelligent, and operate outside the normal rules of engagement or even what is legal.
Montalbano has an interesting and complicated romantic life with his girlfriend, Livia, who is usually staying in Genoa rather than living in Sicily. In her absence Montalbano has brushes with romance, almost always with stunningly beautiful Italian young women. Most of these are are people he has to interview in the course of his work and even maybe murder suspects.
Italian temperaments and direct speaking
The fiery nature of the temperaments of Montalbano and some of the other Italian characters often lead to interesting arguments and problems with colleagues and superiors. Montalbano has a love/hate relationship with his deputy, Mimi Augello and many furious spats.
The forensic pathologist, Dottore Pasquano, pretends to hate Montalbano and always has some abuse ready to hurl at Montalbano “for bothering him”.
The two have a shared passion for a Sicilian pastry called cannoli. Their is more about cannoli below this article and a link to a recipe.
Sadly the actor, Marcello Perracchio, who played Pasquano, died in 2017. His funeral has been written into one of the last Montalbano episodes which I believe has still to be shown in the UK.
Witnessing Sicilian life
There is a a certain amount of humour in the programmes.
One character, Catarella, who mans the telephones and front desk in the police station is clumsy and gets names wrong much of the time. The character is over-written and made worse by over-acting. For me it is the one weak element in the programmes, but I have got used to him and he becomes quite an endearing buffoon after a while.
One has a sense of seeing day to day life in Sicily, domestic scenes, life in cafes, occasional feasts and celebrations, the lives of peasants, fishermen, bank workers, the mafia, and so on.
Montalbano loves food and wine, and swimming in the sea.
Montalbano often exhibits great perception and understanding of human nature. He is sometimes very humane and sympathetic at times when when his work does not call for this.
The stories usually give you some insight into to life and social problems in Italy. For example, there are often problems with the mafia and it is interesting to see how the police handle this issue. One programme dealt with immigrant boat people and a horrible exploitation of young boys; another with the exploitation of immigrant young women.
Not all episodes are truly excellent. We have just watched a very disappointing episode, The Treasure Hunt, in which Montalbano makes stupid decisions and plays for laughs – completely out of character.
Origin of the stories
Each of these dramas is based on a story or novel by Andrea Camilleri. Usually he is a co-author of the screenplay along with two or three other writers.
Andrea Camilleri - author of the Montalbano books
About Andrea Camilleri
Camilleri was born in Sicily and had a successful career as a television and theatre director as well as writing occasional novels. He started writing the Montalbano books a little before his 70th birthday and then completed 28 novels about Montalbano and 9 collections of short stories about him.
Camilleri was a keen observer and critic of Italian life and especially political corruption and the activities of the mafia. Some of his observations on Italian life are apparent in some TV episodes of Montalbano.
25 of the Montalbano novels have been translated into English and many of the thirty or so Montalbano short stories also.
Andrea Camilleri died at the age of 93 in July 2019.
Montalbano on TV and DVD
The television programmes which were first shown on BBC4 in the UK are available on BBC iPlayer. They are in Italian with some Sicilian dialect and accent – which accounts for some unfamiliar pronunciations of some words. With English subtitles.
I still enjoy the opening titles of the episodes with the views of the amazing towns and villages as a plane flies along the coast of Sicily. At this point I do find some music a little too harsh and scratchy for my taste.
On the other hand the title music for The Young Montalbano series with the singer Olivia Sellerio is is beautiful with her earthy, haunting singing. I’ve added a sample at the end of this.
View on BBC iPlayer or buy DVDs. The BBC has 36 episodes of Montalbano and 12 episodes of The Young Montalbano.
Read many of the stories that are translated into English. Some links to Amazon books and DVDs are lower down this page.
David Roberts, 9 August 2021.
Olivia Sellerio, the singer heard on The Young Montalbano title track
Cannoli ingredients and link to recipe
Cannoli consists of a pastry shell with a filling which is always made with ricotta and usually powdered sugar to sweeten it. Filling will usually include mascarpone and whipped cream for a lighter filling. You’ll sometimes find orange zest or nutmeg in there for extra flavour.
For more information click any of these Amazon links . The fourth link is to a box set of DVDs