Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Lady Vanishes: Mystery on the Orient Express

Middleton and Hughes: She's over there!
Smoke, elegance, cigarettes; mysterious plots and evil doctors; imperturbable baronesses and suspiciously burly nuns. Nope, it's not some new Soho nightclub: I finally caught up with the BBC's fine remake of The Lady Vanishes.

The shuttling train provides the perfect acoustic drumming backdrop to a mystery. It's almost as if trains were built for such things: like that other hamaxostichian (ok, I’ve run out of words for train and have fallen back on the classics) mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, this made great play of the claustrophobia and disruption that railway journeys can cause.

Tuppence Middleton was Iris, the not-so-sweet ingenue who suspects something has gone awry; Tom Hughes the dashing young man who comes to believe her. The suggestions of sleazy opulence were nicely done: the beginning, with  Iris's friends (a charming Emerald Fennell, and a brilliantly boozy Daisy Lewis) providing a raucous backdrop to a seemingly idyllic Balkan holiday.

That idyll, though, is a locus amoenus where trouble will happen. When Iris decides to travel home alone, things start to seem a little loopy: at the train station, she has a fall - but was she pushed, or did she faint? Middleton did a good job of Iris' breathless confusion, moving into semi-hysterical conviction. Reflections, smoke, and, most importantly, other people's prejudices and selfishnesses, all conspired to throw her off the scent. Rather than finding herself on this exotic journey, Iris comes very close indeed to losing herself.

It's a gripping, smooth production - and very pleasing to see Julian Rhind-Tutt playing a cad for once.
And one thing the film certainly made me wish for enormously is the return of a dining car - complete with in-car-pianist. It would make a welcome change from the usual mobile phone conversations...

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