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DVD Review: ‘The Lady Vanishes’

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TLVIn 1938, Alfred Hitchcock made a film based on the novel The Wheel Spins. It was remade in 1979 starring Cybill Sheperd, Angela Lansbury, and Elliott Gould.

Recently, the BBC and Masterpiece created a new version of this story, The Lady Vanishes, this one reportedly more closely hewing to the novel than the previous two, and released it on DVD.

This version stars Tuppence Middleton (Spies of Warsaw) as Iris Carr. A carefree socialite, she hangs around a hotel after her friends leave and ends up riding back to London on a train car with assorted strangers. She finds a friendly face in fellow Englishperson Miss Froy (Selina Cadell, Doc Martin), but after Iris wakes from a nap, Miss Froy seems to have disappeared. Iris grows more and more upset as she can’t find a witness to support her story that Miss Froy even exists, other passengers presumably lying, and a bout of what might have been sunstroke leaves her own testimony circumspect.

There is a diverse contingent of players on the train, a confined setting for the story that adds a feeling of claustrophobia to the mix. The Baroness (Benedikte Hansen, Borgen) could be the villain responsible for the drama, if indeed Miss Froy has been abducted, or she could be an innocent rich person that serves as a target for Iris’ delusion. Young, dashing Max Hare (Tom Hughes, Silk) would like to believe Iris, whom he takes an instant liking to, but even his chivalry can’t erase doubts as Iris’ claims seem to fall apart. There is also a Professor (Alex Jennings, Whitechapel), a Doctor (Jesper Christensen, Arvingerne), a Reverend (Pip Torrens, Fleming), his wife (Sandy McDade, Lark Rise to Candleford), and others who come into play, some with their own motivations, and some who remain more mysterious.

The main point of The Lady Vanishes seems to be to let viewers question reality and build tension. If everyone else is lying, why would they do so? Might Iris be as crazy as some accuse her of? Is Miss Froy alive or dead or made up? There are more questions than answers for most of the piece, which should be enough to keep viewers watching, if for no other reasons than to see how it ends up. It’s frustrating to watch, but that only mirrors Iris’ own feelings, so the tone does succeed in letting us relate to the protagonist quite well.

The 90-minute thriller is fine for television, but falls short for the cinema. The pacing is too slow and the emergency too tame, with decent, but not mind-blowing, acting. What this makes for is something that will feel familiar to fans of British period pieces and PBS, albeit moving into a slightly different genre than most of their productions, satisfying a particular, niche audience, but perhaps not appealing to the public at large.

The film’s production values aren’t particularly memorable. The train looks well-detailed, but with its muted, dark colors, it’s not a stand-out set, nor are the costumes lavish enough to really admire. Not being a student of this period, it’s hard for me to determine how realistic the program is, but I do find myself racking my brain, having a hard time coming up with elements to discuss, as the overall feelings is one of blandness.

That’s likely the biggest downfall with The Lady Vanishes. Athough I was interested while watching it, I wasn’t overly impressed enough to do so again anytime soon. It also didn’t stand out as something I would spend any time thinking of after the fact. It’s quick and forgettable, slightly interesting, but mostly dull.

It doesn’t help that there are no extras on this bare-bones DVD release. Perhaps if there were some clue as to why the producers thought a remake was necessary, or a discussion of the choices made, that might spark something more than a first impression leaves. Sadly, no audio commentaries or behind-the-scenes looks are included to serve this purpose, with only the film on the disc.

The Lady Vanishes is available now.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com