‘The Lady Vanishes’, directed by Diarmuid Lawrence for the BBC, is the third adaptation of Ethel Lina White’s 1936 novel ‘The Wheel Spins’. You may already be familiar with Hitchcock’s classic film adaptation, but this newer version is based much more on the original novel than Hitchcock’s mystery rom-com.
Iris Carr, played by Tuppence Middleton, is a deeply unlikeable and somewhat naïve socialite who has little grasp of the real world (during the film she states that she believes herself to be “always safe” due to a square-shaped mark on her hand). After staying overnight at a hotel with friends in the Balkans, where the group is largely looked down on by other guests for their drunken and disorderly antics, Iris decides to stay on herself for an extra night. When she decides to leave she gets to the train station only to realise that the hotel never booked her a seat. She manages to get a seat using a monetary bribe, and after suffering from suspected heat stroke at the station ends up sitting next to Miss Froy (Selina Cadell), a likeable but talkative older woman who Iris does not have the patience to endure. She falls asleep, but when she wakes up Miss Froy is gone and no one else on the train seems to acknowledge her existence. Iris knows that something is up, and so sets off to find out exactly what is being hidden from her.
There’s some very good acting in this film and some faces that may seem familiar, such as Tom Hughes as the charming Max Hare, and Gemma Jones as the gossip-prone Rose Floodporter. Although Iris is difficult to relate to in the beginning I had grown to like her by the end of the film - her inherently selfish traits don’t exactly disappear, but she’s easier to warm to and has a lot more substance than previously thought. It’s a shame that the other characters aren’t developed so well, really. Max is one exception, but I’d liked to have found out a bit more about the other passengers, as it would have helped the plot to not feel quite so linear.
I also felt that the music wasn’t done as well as it could have done and actually detracted from the story in parts – there seems to be a lot of focus on building the suspense, yet it comes across as mildly comical as it’s just so overdone. The film would have worked better had the suspense been delivered through the visuals and the plot, and not just an excessive amount of overbearing crescendos.
These weren’t the biggest issues though – the real problem that stopped it from being on a par with Hitchcock’s adaptation was that, despite it being a mystery, there was no mystery about it. We’d already seen Iris drink tea with Miss Froy previously, and so as an audience knew that she was real. Yes, it could have been a trick, but it didn’t feel like the story was going to lean that way. The plot still remained engaging as we learnt the reasons behind each character’s cover-up of the truth, and it was hard not to feel Iris’s frustration as each response made her look even more incompetent. There just wasn’t enough to detract from the fact that we already knew what was going to happen.
This most recent adaptation of ‘The Wheel Spins’ gives it a good shot, but just doesn’t live up to Hitchcock’s far more memorable version from 1938.
The Lady Vanishes at CeX
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