Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
One of the news items from this weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con was a push of completed Disney and Fox movies out several months to insure full movie theater returns for the studio, while pushing out the door in advance of a full audience return films like The New Mutants and Kenneth Branagh’s follow-up to his adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, now arriving October 23. Those of us excited for the next all-star Hercule Poirot adventure can be glad that at least means a home release sooner than later. In the meantime Amazon Prime has a brilliant BBC production of a classic mystery novel, previously adapted by Alfred Hitchcock, and adapted most recently in 2013, of The Lady Vanishes.
Fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic train mystery, and those of any version of Murder on the Orient Express take heed: There’s a new contender here for best train mystery movie. And even if you don’t agree, this is a classic subgenre that will always welcome more movies, series, and novels. Hitchcock’s 1938 The Lady Vanishes is one of my own favorite Hitchcock films, and helped inspire me to write my own mystery-on-a-train (October’s How to Get Away with Myrtle). With a a high-stakes plot drawn from the war brewing in Europe at the time, it departs sharply from the storyline of the original source material, Ethel Lina White’s 1936 The Wheel Spins. This 2013 BBC production stays truer to White’s novel, and offers viewers an entirely new mystery to solve.
The setup is the same, inspired by the 19th century “Vanishing Lady” urban legend: English socialite Iris Carr (Tuppence Middleton, Black Mirror, The Current War) is traveling alone from the Balkans to England when she falls ill. A fellow traveler, English governess Miss Froy, befriends Iris, looking after her and holding her hand as she falls asleep. When Iris awakes, Miss Froy has (spoiler alert) vanished! No one on the train recalls—or admits to recalling—Miss Froy, and as Iris’s insistent search for her new friend becomes more and more frantic, her fellow passengers label her deranged, delusional, and hysterical. Only Max (Tom Hughes, Victoria), a young English engineer, is inclined to believe her, and (more or less) together they search the train top to bottom for proof of foul play and conspiracy.
Middleton’s take on self-absorbed flapper Iris is a wonderful mix of sympathetic concern and off-putting pushiness, and if we the audience hadn’t seen Miss Froy for ourselves, we probably wouldn’t believe her, either. Hughes is pure delight, dashing, foppish, funny, and torn between supporting Iris and agreeing with those who think she’s just confused. A supporting cast of uncooperative witnesses, including Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes), Gemma Jones (Harry Potter), Sandy McDade (Father Brown, Poirot), Jesper Christensen (the James Bond franchise), and Pip Torrens (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Tomorrow Never Dies)–all with secrets of their own–rounds out the passenger manifest. And at the heart of everything is a brilliantly devious murder plot.
With wonderful 1920s production design and a claustrophobic train set, The Lady Vanishes brings a classic mystery to life in a version you’ll be watching over and over again. The film was directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (The Murder Room, Emma).
Catch it now. The BBC’s The Lady Vanishes is streaming now here on Amazon Prime.