BBC: The Lady Vanishes

Miss Froy (Selina Cadell) and Iris (Tuppence Middleton)

Miss Froy (Selina Cadell) and Iris Carr (Tuppence Middleton) Photo: BBC

BBC: The Lady Vanishes
Starring: Tuppence Middleton, Tom Hughes, Keeley Hawes. Julian Rhind-Tutt, Selina Cadell
Adapted by: Fiona Seres
Director: Diarmuid Lawrence

This has been sitting on the digital box at Offences Towers since it was televised back in March. There was a lot of talk at the time about how brave the BBC were to try a remake of a Hitchcock classic, but obviously not quite enough talk to get us to watch it at the time.

Iris Carr is a wealthy (and actually very annoying) young woman on some kind of extended holiday in an unspecified Balkan country. After falling out with her upper-crust friends, she storms off to travel home on her own. She faints in the dust and heat of the local station, waking up very woozy just in time to be hurried onto the train. There she is helped out by a sturdy English governess called Miss Froy, who buys her tea and settles her down.

After a shallow and sickly sleep, Iris wakes up to find Miss Froy has vanished. Her suspiciously shifty employers deny she ever existed, and the British tourists on the train feign complete ignorance for reasons on their own. Only young engineer Max believes her (and it’s obvious why he’s so keen). Amidst rising doubts as to her sanity, and convinced Miss Froy is in danger, Iris desperately seeks to solve the mystery and find the vanishing lady.

The screenplay, adapted by Fiona Seres from the Ethel Lina White novel The Wheel Spins (1936), takes a very different approach to Hitchcock’s 1938 adaptation. The main difference is that Charters and Caldicott, the cricket-mad duo that provided comic relief (and actually did most to make the Hitchcock film memorable), do not appear.

Annie Tricklebank, the Producer, explains this in an interview with the Telegraph:

‘Originally we thought it was just the Hitchcock film. But when we started digging into it, we realised it was actually adapted from a book called The Wheel Spins… It’s a complete delight and beautifully written. So, rather than go back to the film, we decided to go to the book. To be purists, really.’

There are some very good things about The Lady Vanishes.

For starters, it looks fantastic. If you get no further than the opening scene in which beautiful young women laze around a limpid swimming pool in the sparkling Balkan sun, you’ll remember it. Then the period feel is impeccable. I don’t know much about nice old trains, but I know what I like (by the way apparently the BBC’s budget didn’t extend to making the carriages rock, so the actors all had to do the old Star Trek trick of staggering about). The woozy scenes – is Iris concussed? drugged? suffering from sunstroke? hallucinating? – are genuinely a little disturbing and disjointed.

Iris Carr is played brilliantly by Tuppence Middleton. Unfortunately, the part is so snooty and obnoxious at the beginning of the film that I couldn’t 100% buy her caring about Miss Froy. The rest of the parts are superbly cast, but seemingly the director told them all to turn the Britishness up to 11, meaning they came across just a shade too cold to generate sympathy.

It’s a pleasant and good-looking film, and by the end I didn’t feel like I’d wasted 90 minutes, but I do have a problem with this film: it’s too British, too Downton Abbey, too cynically packaged for sale in global markets. A bit less Farrow and Ball gloss and a bit more humour (à la Hitchcock) or alternatively a bit more grit, would have made it better.

See also:

Interviews with the cast and crew on the BBC website
An excellent interview/review in the Telegraph: Can you improve on Hitchcock?
Crime Time Preview

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Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in 2013 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, Classic mystery book review, Suspense, TV, Witness Statements and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to BBC: The Lady Vanishes

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Rich – I know what you mean about wishing it had a wider appeal. Still, I’m keen to see it. I hope it comes this-a-way at some point…


  2. suzigun says:

    Goodness – this passed me by completely! Might be a good thing to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon.


  3. FictionFan says:

    I watched at the time and was rather disappointed. Not only did I think the Hitchcock was better, but I even preferred the Cybill Shepherd/Elliot Gould version…


  4. MarinaSofia says:

    Yes, I did watch it and, as you say, too much Downton Abbey, too little Hitchcock. Ejoyable, but not really menacing.


  5. This hit my radar when it was shown, but not enough to make me watch it or record it. I really like the Hitchcock film, and the book it was based on. I’m sure this new version will be repeated soon and I might try to catch it then.


  6. Pingback: House-hunting? | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

  7. Pingback: Ethel Lina White: The Wheel Spins | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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