|Going loco? Iris (Tuppence Middleton) and Max (Tom Hughes). Pics: BBC|
BBC1: Sunday, 17 March, 8.30pm
Story: Wealthy young socialite Iris Carr breaks off from a holiday with friends in the Balkans and decides to return home on her own. Having collapsed with what appears to be sunstroke at a train station, she is then befriended and helped by kindly governess Miss Froy. However, when Miss Froy disappears from their carriage, all the other passengers insist there was no Miss Froy on the train and that Iris must have imagined her…
Does anyone read Ethel Lina White’s crime novels these days? She was popular during the 1930s, and three of her books were made into films, two largely forgotten (The Spiral Staircase, 1975, and The Unseen, 1945), while the third, The Wheel Spins, became Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938).
The tale of jolly spiffing Brits abroad in a Croatia full of shifty foreigners where a young socialite gets caught up in a dastardly plot is terribly, terribly old-fashioned, but the project clearly has two big pluses for BBC bosses. It’s a period piece and TV adores period dramas (Father Brown, Marple, Downton Abbey etc). And it’s got shades of Hitchcock, with the Master of Suspense being everywhere just now, from tales of his lustful abuse (BBC2s The Girl) to the making of Psycho (Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock).
|The mysterious Miss Froy and Iris|
Tuppence Middleton as Iris
This new version is not a remake of the film, of course, which would be suicidal, particularly as the original – clunky as it may be – is still cited by authorities such as critic Philip French as a favourite comic thriller.
Newcomer Tuppence Middleton and Tom Hughes step into the shoes of Margaret Lockwood and a bow-tied Michael Redgrave in a return to original novel, which drops Hitchcock’s light-hearted comic touch and the espionage angle, for an attempt to recapture something of the book’s nightmarish premise of a young woman whose sanity is called into question.
Middleton shows some star quality as the spoilt, headstrong socialite Iris Carr, who decides to return home to Blighty after getting sick of her frivolous set of chums while on holiday. She has what seems to be an attack of sunstroke while waiting for the train to Trieste.
|Laid back, but does ‘Mrs Todhunter’ have something to hide?|
Miss Froy – a figment of Iris’s imagination?
An English governess befriends and helps Iris on the train, but Iris is still too nauseous to pay much attention to Miss Froy (Selina Cadell). So when Miss Froy tells Iris that she thought she had seen the brother of her employer the baroness – a sighting that might puncture his alibi for murder – Iris hardly takes the news in.
On waking from a nap, however, Iris is alarmed to discover that Miss Froy has vanished from her carriage, and the train’s other occupants, including the baroness and a creepy doctor, all claim there was never a Miss Froy on the train. It was all in Iris’s imagination.
A professor from England and his student, a dashing Tom Hughes, assist Iris by using their knowledge of the local language to quiz the travellers, but they too find Iris’s story hard to credit.
|What’s up, doc? He suggests Iris be put in a hospital|
Director Diarmuid Lawrence films this story of paranoia with flair, his camera roving round the train, and he apparently makes a Hitchcockian cameo appearance as ‘disapproving man’. The cast is also pitch perfect, with Keeley Hawes and Julian Rhind-Tutt playing an adulterous couple, and Gemma Jones and Stephanie Cole a disapproving and prim pair of snooty sisters on holiday.
Alex Jennings good as the exasperated professor, and Benedikte Hansen (who fans of Borgen will know) is a fine villain as the sinister Baroness.
Remaking well-like classic films usually results in a train wreck of a drama, failing miserably to capture any of the original’s magic, but this new Lady Vanishes is atmospheric, pretty enjoyable and succeeds on its own merits.
Cast: Tuppence Middleton Iris Carr, Benedikte Hansen The Baroness, Selina Cadell Miss Froy, Tom Hughes Max Hare, Alex Jennings The Professor, Julian Rhind-Tutt Mr Todhunter/Sir Peveril, Keeley Hawes Mrs Todhunter/Laura Parmiter, Pip Torrens Reverend Kenneth Barnes, Sandy McDade Mrs Barnes, Gemma Jones Rose Flood-Porter, Stephanie Cole Evelyn Flood-Porter, Jesper Christensen The Doctor