You have to be either foolhardy or brave to attempt a new version of a novel that served as the basis for a classic Alfred Hitchcock film. But whatever prompted the BBC to remake The Lady Vanishes, the result is entertaining without either dethroning Hitchcock’s 1938 film or embarrassing itself.
The new version airs on PBS’ Masterpiece, at 1 a.m. Monday and 3 a.m. Tuesday because of pledge programming in prime time Sunday.
Both films were adapted from a 1936 novel by Ethel Lina White called The Wheel Spins, about a rich, vapid and spoiled young woman named Iris Carr (Tuppence Middleton).
Bored by her friends and the stuffy, disapproving guests at the hotel where she’s been staying, Iris decides to take the train back to London.
Iris is befriended by a chatty woman in tweed named Miss Froy (Selina Cadell), who suddenly disappears. Iris believes the woman has been kidnapped, or worse, but no one else on the train believes her story.
None of it makes much sense, of course, but even if you’ve forgotten the Hitchcock film, it’s easy to see from the new version what appealed to him about the novel: All the proper secondary characters who are at first so judgmental about the flighty young English girl are later revealed to be in no position to make judgment on others.
The film’s appeal has to do with the microcosm of being on a train traveling a long distance, particularly a train in 1931, with its own library, well-appointed parlor and dining cars, and efficiently attentive service personnel. Hitchcock did it better, of course, but at least the filmmakers knew better than to transfer the story to, say, the anti-romantic sterility of a contemporary European TGV.