Why Isn't This A Film? - Sidetracked

What have we got here then?

Sidetracked is a detective thriller from Swedish author Henning Mankell. It features the now-famous character of Kurt Wallander, an investigator with the Ystad police department in the Swedish province of Skåne.

OK fine. What’s it about?

The core plot follows Wallander as he investigates several murders of high profile figures in the Skåne area. The murders are singled out as being different by their extreme brutality and meticulous planning - the perpetrator seems to act fast and without mercy and, Wallander soon discovers, has a penchant for scalping his victims.

Interesting. Is there something more?

At the same time as the murders start, Wallander finds himself troubled by the suicide the same day of a young girl in a rape field. As Wallander struggles to forget the apparently anonymous girl he must also deal with a visit from his daughter and the ageing process catching up with his sometimes-distant father.

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

In short, I was blown away by this, the first Mankell book I've read. Wallander is a compelling character and Mankell's prose is bare and uncompromised in its completeness. The mystery is intriguing until the point where you discover the murderer, at which point it becomes incredibly tense but none-the-less brilliant. The most I have enjoyed a police procedural in some time. Possibly ever.


The one problem I had with it was the cast of detectives that surround Wallander. Anne-Britt Hoglund and Svedberg were fairly distinct and memorable but the others all seemed to merge together into a collection of very similar people, differentiated by not very much. It's a small qualm though.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

Sidetracked was adapted into a direct-to-TV film in Mankell's native Sweden in 2001 where it starred Rolf Lassgård as Wallander. More recently, the BBC series Wallander adapted six of Mankell's books (including Sidetracked) into feature length adaptations with Kenneth Branagh taking the role of the detective. The Swedish version is not available in the UK.

Perhaps with the success of the BBC TV series, now isn't the right time for a bigger film adaptation. Having said that, the success of fellow Swedish author Steig Larsson's posthumously published Millenium series has put Swedish literature on the map and with Mankell's book arguably better than Larsson's, perhaps now is the time for Hollywood to come calling. I'd certainly be in the queue.

But who'd star in it?

Branagh certainly looks as though he makes a very good Wallander and he does fit my image of the character. If the book was to be adapted with Hollywood money behind it, producers would probably look to a fairly big American name to take it on. George Clooney is the right age but doesn't fit Wallander's dishevelled aesthetic. DiCaprio and Damon are both too young. Josh Brolin would probably do a good job if he can show a less gruff, more human, side to his persona. Having said all that: if a film was to be commissioned, I wouldn't rule out Branagh being at the top of the wish list.

A strong female side-kick to play the part of Anne-Britt is definitely needed. Much younger than Wallander, Kate Beckinsale would fit the bill along with anyone from Samantha Morton to Rebbeca Hall to Natalie Portman. Likewise, any of the currently rising youngsters would no doubt do a great job as Wallander's daughter Linda. Think: Emily Blunt, Emma Stone or (whisper it) even Rooney Mara in a bit of Swedish literature casting crossover!

Will it be any good?

There shouldn't be any way something like this can fail. If it does, someone needs to have words.

Anything else I should know about it?

Wallander from the BBC is out now on DVD and Blu-ray. Henning Mankell's next novel in the series of books, The Troubled Man, is due to be released in March 2011 in the UK. It will be the last Wallander mystery.

Why Isn't This A Film? is a regular Film Intel feature which takes a book (you know... one of those things with pages in, doesn't project on to a screen, makes small rustling noises), comic, video game or graphic novel and assesses its adaptation prospects. One day this feature will get something right and we will win something major and valuable. Possibly.

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