Tue 23 Jun 2015
THE LADY VANISHES. BBC, UK, made-for-TV movie. First broadcast: 17 March 2013. Tuppence Middleton, Keeley Hawes, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Sandy McDade, Pip Torrens, Stephanie Cole, Gemma Jones, Benedikte Hansen, Jesper Christensen, Selina Cadell, Tom Hughes, Alex Jennings. Screenplay: Fiona Seres, based on the novel The Wheel Spins, by Ethel Lina White. Director: Diarmuid Lawrence.
The original version of this film, the one done by Alfred Hitchcock back in 1938, is generally considered to be a classic, and with one or two reservations, I think rightly so. There was an earlier remake of the movie in 1979 with Cybill Shepherd, Elliott Gould and Angela Lansbury, but I’ve never seen it. (I’ve been tempted, but should I?)
The basic story is this, in both the Hitchcock version and this most recent one. A young girl gets on a train somewhere in eastern Europe, having been hit on the head before boarding. With her as a companion is a lady she’s just met who’s also heading back to England, after having worked as a governess for a wealthy family in that country for several years.
After having tea together, they go back to their compartment, the girl falls asleep, and when she awakens, the lady is gone. She has vanished completely, without a trace.
The other passengers in the compartment claim they have never seen her, including a sinister looking baroness. Even worse, no one else on the train says they saw her either. What comes next is the crux of the tale, including a good-looking young man who comes to the assistance of the even better-looking young woman, and eventually even comes to believe her.
The Hitchcock version is often described as a comedy-mystery, and I’ve never felt all that comfortable with many of the scenes that that are meant to be amusing. In contrast, this latest made-for-TV version is fairly serious all the way through. No Charters and Caldicott, for example, the two potty British gentlemen who claim not to have seen the missing woman on the grounds that if there is a delay, they will not get home in time for some important soccer matches.
In their place this later version does have two dotty ladies who need to get home to attend to their roses, but their later role in the movie is negligible, unlike Charters and Caldicott.
The underlying plot, the reason for this elaborate charade, is slightly different in the two films, and I think the later one is the better one. In neither movie does the conspiracy make sense, however. How could the perpetrators be sure that everyone else on the train would have reasons to say the had never seen the lady?
The landscapes in the second film are more lovely (Croatia, supposedly), the scenes on the train are better filmed, as the protagonists make their way up and down the corridor. Truth be told, though, the movie may rely a little too often on visuals, leaving the viewer (at least this one) wondering on one or two occasions what happened, or why.
The ending epilogue is a bit lame in both, so in that regard the two stories come out even. I’m glad to have seen the second. The players are all fine, although none were known to me at all before a watching. I hope this isn’t out-and-out heresy, but when it comes down to a final summing up, I enjoyed this film more than I did Alfred Hitchcock’s version, mostly because of the sinister, less humorous approach, which I suspect is closer to the book. (I’ve not read it. I wonder how many people actually have?)