John C Adams Reviews 'The Lady Vanishes' from the BBC/Masterpiece Films
Updated: Jun 8
(2013, dir Diarmuid Lawrence)
The BBC/Masterpiece Films co-production of 'The Lady Vanishes' is a remake of the 1938 film version, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Both are adaptations of the Ethel Lina White novel 'The Wheel Spins' (1936). It's a mystery thriller.
Tuppence Middleton plays Iris Carr, a spoilt rich girl with nothing better to do than bounce around Europe treating her grasping friends to stays in luxury hotels. This lifestyle finds her in Croatia, bored with her life and (as she says) bored with herself. However, the viewer is immediately struck that Iris is more considerate of staff than her friends, although defensive on the subject of family and sensitive to the snubs of an older generation of British tourists staying at the same hotel who cannot wait to carp and criticize the young party for having their own kind of fun.
The clash between values (and hypocrisy) between generations almost immediately takes a sinister turn after Iris, apparently suffering from sunstroke, faints on the sweltering station platform and hits her head. On the train ride up to Italy for a connecting service across Europe, she still feels weak and develops a terrible headache. Travelling alone, since her fun-loving pals are motoring home, she is instantly vulnerable. A kindly middle-aged woman called Miss Froy (Selina Cadell) identifies herself as a governess returning home to England and befriends the ailing Iris. But when the latter wakes from a long sleep feeling much better, she's horrified to discover that Miss Froy has vanished from the train.
Much of this TV adaptation, just like the original book, revolves around the theme of evidence. Who was Miss Froy, was she ever on the train and if so why might she have vanished? It also considers how we subjectively attach varying credence to testimony based on the character of the witness. As a lawyer, that's something I find fascinating. When Iris attempts to raise the alarm and recruit the strangers on the train to help search for Miss Froy, she is almost universally disbelieved. Even people who actually saw Miss Froy deny her existence, each lying for reasons of their own. Iris rails against the unquestioning tendency of those in authority to believe other people because they are 'matrons and Sunday school teachers'. The failure of a vicar's wife to be honest is particularly disappointing. Not only is Iris distressed by her inability to make herself believed, but Miss Froy remains in danger. Iris and a young man she meets on the train set out to find Miss Froy.
The psychology behind why an otherwise fairly selfish person would instantly come to care so much for a total stranger is clearly but subtly presented, and this is essential for the emotional coherence of the adaptation. Likewise, the characterisation of each of the witnesses in turn who fail to speak up to support Iris is carefully developed. Adulterous spouses, a mother frantic with worry about returning to her sick child and even the unspeakably self-absorbed pair of old English women (vivid performances from Stephanie Cole and Gemma Jones) who lie simply to avoid the inconvenience of being delayed. All are present on the train with Iris and thwart her investigations.
The natural lighting in Croatia made for some stunning scenes on location. It was truly beautiful. Set filming on the interior train takes up most of the screen time, and the sets were sumptuous. This included luxury coaches, each with a different configuration, whether to house an invalid, trap Iris with a Balkan aristocratic family or give the adulterous lovers some privacy, the little library and the dining car, which appears in various key scenes. The production of that set was amazing, and it was the key to keeping the characters and the action grounded.
I loved this TV adaptation. Iris and her friend Max were likeable and determined to solve the mystery. Miss Froy was vivid enough for me to really care that she was found safe and well. And the train was a star in its own right.
Thank you so much for reading this 'Mysteries on Monday' blogpost from John C Adams Reviews. Please feel free to comment in the section below, including recommending other murder mysteries you have enjoyed and would recommend to others.
My next blogpost is on Friday for 'Weekend Watchers'. See you then!
Many thanks to photographer Neil S for providing the cover image for this blog via freeimages.com