Technical Hitch

Article excerpt

The Lady Vanishes

BBC1

One gathers that The Lady Vanishes had been gathering dust at the back of the BBC drama cupboard for quite a while until its screening this month--it was originally supposed to be shown last Christmas--and now I've watched it, I can see why. They might have got away with it on Boxing Day afternoon, when its audience would have been fat and farty and more than usually easily pleased. But on a cold and clear-eyed Sunday night in March? Not on your life.

I bet plenty of those who started watching it soon flipped over to ITV's much-hyped film about the Queen--a documentary that revealed, among other things, that the royal household subscribes to Majesty magazine. (The more I think about this, the more it seems like one of the best facts ever, slip off her crown and isn't HM basically Alan Titchmarsh--with longer vowels?) If I hadn't been reviewing this, I would have done exactly the same.

A remake must have seemed like a great idea at the time. You can very well imagine the innocent enthusiasm at the commissioning meeting. Alfred Hitchcock's 1938 film, The Lady Vanishes, which was based on the novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White, is a marvellous confection, all camp thrills and derring-do. No one who has seen it ever forgets the cricket-obsessed young men, Charters and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford), who are rushing back to England from the Balkans in order to see the Test match. Except ... yes, the people who made this version--it was written by Fiona Seres and directed by Diarmuid Lawrence--did forget them. Or at any rate, they left them out. Why? I'm damned if know.

All I can tell you is that this was a bizarrely pared down version of The Lady Vanishes, its silliest corners ruthlessly eliminated in favour of its central plot. Which would be fine if its plot--a seemingly daffy woman called Miss Froy is taken hostage on a steam train by villains unknown--wasn't so silly in itself. Throw too much weight on it, as Seres did, and all you will hear is the loud creaking it makes as it turns. …