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parrot_knight [userpic]

The Thirty-Nine Steps

December 28th, 2008 (09:42 pm)

A not very successful attempt to translate the themes of the book into contemporary television drama values, but in the process mistaking them. Spinning off elements of Hannay into Victoria Sinclair had at points the effect of neutralising him - as if he wasn't already, as to portray him as a former Boer War intelligence officer is to miss the point about colonial skills juxtaposed with Lowland Scots rural life and the blindness that could be found among London sophistication. One form of Scottishness was exchanged for another, with lots of castles, Scots soldiers in kilts, and the National Defence Committee meeting at Stirling Castle (which would have disturbed the barracks there, surely). Overall, there were too many sacrifices to the culture of ignorance of which Russell T Davies, alas, is a high priest. St Pancras Station never looked like that; and no-one travelled via the East Coast main line to Scotland from there, nor was it a single-track line. When passing off Edinburgh as London, hide your landmarks better (OK, maybe I'm more familiar with Register House than other people...) Presumably the audience are expected to be confused by the idea of a young man having the title 'Sir', so it's Mr Harry Sinclair here, and not 'Sir Harry'. Etc...

Still, as an exercise in making an action thriller on a budget, it's probably a success (James Hawes of Doctor Who directed) and that's probably what the BBC were in part looking for, as well as a Penry-Jones vehicle; though of course he's just too English-British for a Scots South African.

Comments

Posted by: didiusjulianus (didiusjulianus)
Posted at: December 28th, 2008 10:23 pm (UTC)

I'm now a lot less bothered that I forgot and missed it than I was 2 mins ago when I noted your post's title. Thanks for the write-up, I doubt I'll bother with it now (on its re-run). I've got several other things recorded anyway, none of which have as yet appealed, somehow.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 28th, 2008 11:17 pm (UTC)

I do wonder whether I would have enjoyed Affinity on ITV more instead...

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 28th, 2008 11:17 pm (UTC)

There was a piece in The Guardian this month explaining that none of the adaptations have been particularly faithful to the book - all face the same problems, including particularly establishing a strong female character.

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: December 29th, 2008 07:54 am (UTC)

none of the adaptations have been particularly faithful to the book

This is very true.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: muuranker (muuranker)
Posted at: December 29th, 2008 10:34 am (UTC)

It has been too long since I have read it .... so found a good outlet for some Christmas money!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 30th, 2008 12:41 am (UTC)

I intend to spend some money on some Buchan as well...

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: December 29th, 2008 11:34 am (UTC)

s to portray him as a former Boer War intelligence officer is to miss the point about colonial skills juxtaposed with Lowland Scots rural life and the blindness that could be found among London sophistication

Not only that, it destroys the suspense of the 'innocent thrown into an unfamiliar and frightening world' aspect, which is a powerful one however often you've seen Hitchcock (though Buchan, of course, invented it first).

One form of Scottishness was exchanged for another, with lots of castles, Scots soldiers in kilts, and the National Defence Committee meeting at Stirling Castle

In fact, substituting something authentic for a lot of tartan and shortbread-tin nonsense. Bah, humbug.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 30th, 2008 12:38 am (UTC)

To some extent Victoria was used to symbolise the 'unfamiliar and frightening world' - she has the scouting skills that Hannay recollects from his South African experiences, for example, and was vaguely used to emphasise that Hannay is not in his own country; but the script was just not clever enough to carry off the contrast. The portrayal of the relationship was uneven; the production seemed really pleased not to have Victoria and Hannay have sex when they went to bed together in the rustic inn (how far from Buchan's spontaneous hospitality), despite their shared mustard fetishism; for Victoria to offer herself once they are back at brother Harry's 'rented' house was the hoariest of cliches.

I think that the adaptation was trying to avoid tartan shortbread-tin cliche - thus, perhaps, the removal of practically all Buchan's 'local colour' [though that's not what it is] - but didn't replace it with anything of substance.