on 1 February 2010
I really wanted to buy this DVD, having seen it on the TV. A stylish and fast paced version of Buchan's classic. Rupert Penry-Jones makes an intersting and dynamic Richard Hannay and he sparks well with Lydia Leonard who is excellent in the part on Victoria Sinclair. If you like period drama with a little bit of romance and plenty of action this is the one for you.
on 7 January 2009
Right, before I start with these ramblings of a diseased mind, let me put my cards on the table from the beginning. I know there are many people who seem to have a terrible down on Rupert Penry-Jones for whatever reason and that's fair enough. Each to their own preference.
But I like his work and when I heard The 39 Steps was going to be on, I looked forward to it immensely. I've seen all the other versions and read the book (and other Buchan stories) and as far as I can tell, there has never been a "faithful" rendition of this work because, again as far as I can tell, it wouldn't work visually/dramatically. Every director/adapter has changed or added something so I have no trouble with that as a concept. I will say right now that I have no idea what was happening with the ending of this version or what it all meant or how it came about but in the great scheme of things, I can live with that.
I really, really enjoyed this. I thought it was light-hearted, entertaining, captured the spirit of the period without getting bogged down in pedantic detail and it fairly zipped along. I don't think there's any point in castigating it for not being something else. It was a new version with its own contemporary axes to grind/boxes to tick and on that basis, it worked like a charm for me.
And speaking of charm, as I said, I like Rupert Penry-Jones, I think he is grossly under-rated as an actor and here, he was just perfectly cast and wonderfully skilled in a role almost tailor-made for someone with a light touch and a bit of dash about him.
I don't know where people get the idea RPJ is wooden and can't do comedy-his way of commenting with a straight face and a twinkle in his eye is just lovely. Too subtle for some, maybe. And charm? Even when the character was making a klutz of himself he had buckets of charm. The way he laughed at himself and the situation when he was in the train with the ventriloquist; the smile at the maid who drew the police off; the way he took the measure of Scudder and made him breakfast; the expression on his face during the public meeting; the grin as he ran through the kitchen bumping into the maids and hurling the laundry about; the scenes with Victoria when they were arguing completely unreasonably with each other and in the car after she'd told him she was a spy AND a suffragette; the lovely, lovely line about wooing, flowers, dinner and a passionate debate about the rights of women (or however he put it!), going from serious intent to joy and laughter in one short speech.
Too many to count. As to the portrayal of the character of Richard Hannay, it seemed to me truer to the concept of the ordinary man caught up in great events than many others have been.
He was presented right from the start as a man looking for something, a man uncertain of his place in the world who was thrown into a situation beyond his control but who did his best, who used what experience and skills he had acquired in life to get himself out of trouble. But he was also a fallible human being who did get out of his depth and who didn't have the perfect answer to everything.
People either want an all-knowing, superman-type, one-bound-and-he-was-free hero or they don't. That doesn't make any alternative a wimp or a wet. Hannay here was a clever, talented and resourceful person but also bewildered, confused and scared.
I wasn't mad about the addition of the Victoria character but she struck me as far more believable and attractive than any of the introduced love interests that went before. Madeleine Carroll was gorgeous but passive (a stock Hitchcock heroine, quelle surprise!) and the others are just forgettable. (I might be making this up myself but I seem to remember from a million years ago reading in some of the other Buchan stories that Hannay's wife Mary was some kind of spy or government employee when he met her which might prove to be a real Buchan-based inspiration for the Victoria character rather than a pure invention. But I am quite prepared to be proved absolutely deluded and wrong! And it will make me read the stories again to find out.).
I liked the notion that they were both prejudiced and opinionated (a nod to some of the now unacceptable, though of-their-time, opinions stated in Buchan's original) but that they came round to each other as they saw what the other was capable of-he saw that a woman could be practical, intelligent and resourceful and she saw that a man could be a gentleman and trustworthy and lose the patronising veneer of the times when confronted with a different kind of person and a different set of events than those he was used to. And their sarky/comic exchanges were a treat!
Very few dramatised or adapted versions exactly follow whatever the original book said and did and I thought for sheer charm and fun and verve this was a great romp, expertly and stylishly performed and beautifully filmed.
Of course it went for shameless audience pleasing and none the worse for that. It obviously succeeded on that score because it got excellent viewing figures and the audience didn't diminish throughout the 90 minutes so it obviously held the interest of the almost 7and a half million who tuned in.
The romance was delightfully schmaltzy and of course it was sexed up. Hitchcock started that, after all, with his handcuffs and stockings. Big wow-sex did not begin in 1963 and in any case, the Edwardian era (OK, I know this was set in 1914 and George V's reign but it didn't disappear overnight!) wasn't exactly noted for its prudishness, from the top of the social scale down. It's a piece of escapist fiction, not an academic commentary on post-Edwardian, pre-World War One social mores.
And this version, to me at least, gave a real feel of the original while getting in a few homages and references to other versions AND to a more modern audience. Too much period perfection and it becomes a spoof and almost a distraction greater than that of finding that the detail isn't exactly as it "should" be.
I loved this and I will love watching it again, so I have ordered the DVD to do just that. And I hope they hire Rupert Penry-Jones to do further Hannays, especially Greenmantle and Mr Standfast. So there!
on 13 June 2010
I loved the 39 Steps with Robert Donat -- and hoped this wouldn't ruin my memories. Because Rupert Penry-Jones was starring, I gave it a try and was NOT disappointed. Film makers kept it true to history and all actors were well cast! So, I accept the 2008 version in place of the 20th century version. 'Kings' to living in the 21st century with top film makers!
on 1 August 2016
This really must be the worst screen (well, made for TV in this case) adaption of Buchan's story so far.
Although it at least makes some attempt at a period setting - though don't look too closely at the vehicles or +that+ aircraft! - it manages to be even worse than the tragic 1959 version with Kenneth Moore, playing fast and loose with the story, having another hopeless Hannay, and topping it all off with the modern scourge of political correctness through the implausible device of a suffragette who turns out to be an unarmed combat expert as well as a masterpy!
The are really too many cringeworthy scenes in this film to describe, but the ending - now transplanted to a Scottish lochside! - manages to be about as mawkish and absurd as you will find in any alleged action film. And to make matters worse, the hostile agents look about as menacing as Wily E Coyote; somewhere Conrad Veidt must be laughing his head off!
If you must watch it, despite all the warnings, treat it as a slapstick comedy and have a sickbag handy. Trust me, you will need it.
on 9 March 2014
I watched this on the back of loving Downton and such wonderful performances such as dame Maggie Smith and the rest of the lovely cast. While some may say that I am romanced by the pomp and prestigiousness of such dramas, I would argue that I was seduced by the performances of Rupert Penry Jones and his character in Spooks. I think you will agree tat he is a very valid and talented actor. While I may not have the luxury of reading the original story (which I surely will now) prior to watching this depiction, I was most certainly impressed with the story and the cinematography of this remake of a classic tale. If you want to have some light entertainment and usually enjoy such dramas as " Dial M for Murder" and "Downton Abbey" you will definitely list this in your "worth a watch" category. While I can't speak of the authenticity of this programme, I most certainly can speak of it's worth as a way to while away an hour or two of your pre-bedtime viewing. Don't be put off by the more negative reviews, take a chance and enjoy this lovely version of a tale of loyalty, bravery and betrayal and savour the pure joy of the telling of a story relevant to the more fashionable period genre of today. Well worth a jaunt, it made my night :-)
on 9 January 2009
I guess this version would be okay if you don't know the story, with some excellent production quality, and some relatively decent casting.
However, anyone who has read the book will be horrified at the ham-fisted adaptation of Buchan's gripping story. I fully agree with some of the other reviewers who would suggest that you watch the Robert Powell version to see something a little more true to the story (apart from the ludicrous ending), with an actor far more believable as Richard Hannay. This was a real disappointment, and thus I cannot recommend it.
on 8 March 2014
The two stars are superb together, conveying romance (of the period) perfectly. It seems to be set more in the period specified. The other versions were interestingly good, especially the Robert Powell (an elaborate production) and the Kenneth More version (typically breezy as he was) and the Robert Donat verson typical of the age in which it was produced. This is a well made, good quality production which will stand the time test.
on 19 June 2009
Really enjoyed this film when it was shown on TV and had to add it to my DVD collection. Not terribly close to the book but the good characters and light-heartedness made it so enjoyable, it just has to be appreciated for what it is. Definitely a favourite!
Film and TV adaptations of the 39 Steps should never be criticised for how many liberties they take with the plot of John Buchan's original novel. No adaptation, including Hitchcock's celebrated cinematic version of the 30's, has been a literal transplantation of book to screen. Good as the book is, if you attempted such a feat I fear you would end up with something that simply didn't work dramatically, no matter how faithful it was.
So this latest 39 Steps shouldn't, in principle, be faulted for playing around with the plot. In fact the makers should be congratulated for actually making some attempts to stay close to the book where possible. There are no memory men on display here, and no-one ends up dangling from the clock face at Westminster. Yes, the story has been truncated , various episodes excised and a romantic subplot added but many of the basic elements of the book's plot remain.
That includes the pre-WWI setting. It would have been far too easy to try and make the story more relevant for modern audiences in some fashion, but the film-makers have refused to do so. This is still a boys-own adventure story of espionage in the run up to the Great War, for which we should be grateful because it wouldn't work if it wasn't.
I wil admit that budget limitations mean that this isn't the glossiest or most expansive of productions, but the producers seem to have made the most of what they did have to spend. The period details seem reasonably accurate (although I am no expert) and the locations they use, both for the London and the Scottish scenes, give the whole thing a reasonably cinematic feel.
The acting does come across as a touch on the hammy or wooden side from time to time, but its not terrible. I'm not a big fan of Rupert Penry-Jones and he's not the greatest thespian to ever grace the screen, but he manages the action and romance well enough. The female lead, Lydia Leonard, is better and feels physically right for the role of the competent, resourceful woman with a secret. It would have been far to easy to cast a higher profile and possibly more beautiful actress in the part only to have her feel out of place in the early 20th Century setting (although yes, I will admit that the character's 'female liberation schtick' does feel tacked on and forced). The rest of the cast, experienced British character actors one-and-all, fill their parts well, even if the German spies in their trench-coats and fedoras seem to have stumbled straight out of central casting.
Some will grumble about the addition of the romantic subplot of course, saying it has no place in what was originally a female free story, but I liked the way this developed. Okay, it was utterly predictable, but there was some genuine chemistry between Penry-Jones and Leonard and the way it was resolved felt right even if it wasn't entirely satisfying on an emotional level.
The 39 Steps, in all its various incarnations, is essentially a simple story of derring-do in the face of adversity. It doesn't need to be dressed up or mucked around with too much. The makers of this adaptation seem to have recognised that fact and as a result have come up with a very enjoyable slice of old fashioned television entertainment.
on 9 May 2013
The previous versions of this well used story are all superior to this one, that is in the plot dept. the visuals are very good , great sets pieces and superb acting from all involved, shame the plot is a bit hard to take !