back to article BBC to 'reimagine' The Thirty-nine Steps

The BBC will begin filming next month on a "reimagined" version of John Buchan's 1915 novel The Thirty-nine Steps - casting Spooks thesp Rupert Penry-Jones as Richard Hannay, the Guardian reports. Described as a centrepiece of Auntie's Xmas schedule, the feature-length adaptation will be "closer to the book" than Alfred …


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  1. Smallbrainfield
    IT Angle

    Whoever thought of the word

    "re-imagine" should be slapped about the face with a bag of salad leaves from the chilled vegetable section of any of the major supermarkets and then have houmous slathered through their hair and made to stand outside in a municipal car park saying sorry, while a crowd of children dressed as Victorian street urchins point and laugh and occasionally throw half-eaten fruit and potato peelings. Ideally this would take place at a weekend.

    The BBC should employ Lord Reith lookalikes to wander the corridors of it's buildings and randomly hit employees with a large rubber stamp with the word 'nobber' embossed in reverse on it's head.

  2. Andy

    The word "reimagination" worries me

    If it's closer to the book, why is it a reimagination?

  3. A J Stiles
    Thumb Down

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it

    The original "The Thirty-Nine Steps" was an absolute classic, and every other spy film ever made since then is just a pale imitation.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    West End Version

    If you want to see an excellent version of the 39 steps, then look no further than the current West End comedy, although with only a cast of 4 and limited props, it carrys of all the main parts of the story in fantastic style

  5. Andrew Thomas

    I like "re-imagine"

    I like "re-imagine". It means a more complete reworking of the story, including the tone and the visuals, bringing it up-to-date. It's not just a "re-writing". It's more comprehensive than that. Maybe including references to terrorism and more modern concerns.

    Batman "Dark Knight" - best example of "re-imagining".

  6. Matt

    Agree with Smallbrainfield

    I'm also a bit worried by the Bourne reference. The Bourne book was hardly a challenging read but they had to dumb down the film version for the Yanks (these are the good guys, these are the bad, there is no grey ....) so I'm a bit frightened what they might do here.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Possible improvements,

    Firstly they need to set it in america maybe LA with the star as a non nonsense anti-terrorist agent, with the steps being terrorists he has to find in 24 hours before they blow up

    they could have a sassy sidekick for extra effect, who's an expert in kung-fu as a counter-point to the brute force approach of the star

  8. lvm

    we've already had one 'remagination'

    the one with Kenneth More, and a later version with Robert Powell wich was quite close to the book and my personal favorite - maybe even better than the Hitchcocks's. Well, good ideas are scarce...

  9. Geoff Spick

    Stand up Robert Powell

    In the tradition of other reimaginings (pleurgh!) he should play the dad of the protagonist.

    John Buchan spins in grave - actually there seem to be rather a lot of these at the mo, surely all these revolving artists can be used to supply the national grid

  10. Anonymous John


    "The Thirty-four Steps" to save on production costs?

  11. Anonymous Coward

    FFS !

    Nice to know my licence fee is going on some really original programming, Auntie Beeb !

    What next a 60th adaptation of Bleak House ? The lovvies really do like playing with the period dressing up box don't they !

    Getting my coat - the long black one with the fedora please.

  12. Eddie Edwards

    Let us not forget what *Christ*mas is all about

    Let us not forget, among all this talk of Buchanan reimaginings along the lines of Bond and Bourne, what Christmas is really about. The clue is in the name.

    It's about Dr Who.

    If they don't do a Dr Who special I don't even see the point in taking the time off work. People should never forget what these traditional occasions are really for. I would be horrified if the budget for the Dr Who special was cut by even one penny ($4.32) in order to fund this secular "spy thriller" nonsense.

    There, I said it. It may not be the most popular opinion these days, with so many non-believers about, but if more people watched Dr Who every Saturday night there would be less fighting in the streets between 6:15 and 7pm, and that's a fact.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Given the PC Beeboids...

    This one will feature a middle eastern religion good guy battling a gang of evil right wing fundie terrorist millytant christians who have a secret plan to usurp nu labour and force into power a MMGW denier USA supporting Oil company sponsored homophobic racist regime. But using the power of love and green veggies he defeats them and enables his life partner to 'take wings and soar'.

    Yep that ticks all the beeboid boxes. Enjoy peeps - myself I'm off to the lap dancing club to confer with mahoosive jugs. Ooh I'm gong to heck for that one!

  14. Nick Palmer
    Thumb Up

    Could be good

    The 39 Steps is a great story, but that doesn't mean that it couldn't be retold very well in a modern context - yes, there's be changes but that wouldn't detract from the original. There are lots of other classics that have been reworked/re-imagined very well. Yojimbo was still a great story after A Fistful Of Dollars was made, and that in turn was a great film. I've always loved Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male, and thoroughly enjoyed its almost-reimagination in Stephen Hunter's excellent Point of Impact - which was in turn very effectively re-imagined for the screen in Shooter which is definitely one of the most effective manhunt thrillers in years. Personally, I think the BBC have every chance of making this an excellent adaptation.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh well.

    There are hundreds of great books out there that have never been adapted to the screen, so why do TV/Film companies have to continually rehash (sorry re-imagine) stuff that's been done well before.

    Yes the Kenneth Moore version was pretty weak, but the Robert Powell version was good. It seems, from your story at least, that the BBC are conveniently ignoring that version.

    Re-imagining Brideshead Revisited after the definitive TV version, what's the point?

    I remember a re-imagining of a Sherlock Holmes tale on British TV a few years ago, it was hyped massively that it was going to be much closer to the books than previous versions. Of course they seemed to conveniently forget the Jeremy Brett series which were surely as faithful to the books as it is possible to get. Needless to say the new version was apalling.

    Anyway, surely the centrepeice of the BBC's chrimbo schedules will be Dr Who again?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    ... our attention span these days ...

    ... would do better with only 3 steps down that cliff.

    Lets dumb it down for the masses.

    The dirty Terr's are going to gun down the PM and steal the Anti-Terrorism-Plan Disc.

    Our hero infiltrates the dirty Terr's nest, finds their secret meeting place at the bottom of 3 steps by the Houses of Parliment and saves the day by blasting them to smithereens in a high speed boat chase.

    Job done.

    Paris, because she knows that 3 is an easier number than 39.

  17. Simon Millard


    Don't forget the version with Robert Donat. And I'm sure there was a fourth.

  18. SminkyBazzA

    @West End Version

    Seconded! Every scene acted out by just four people and the funniest stage performance I've ever seen. Was at the Criteron in Picadilly.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re-imagine - what an interesting word.

    Now my friends,

    NuGov Broadcasting Corporation would like you to Re-Imagine the past, we shall be running a long series of dramas and documentries to help you in this task.

    Long you have been tought that the rightous side of Democracy battled against the evils of Fascism and Nazism. But please, re-imagine for a moment, what has our democracy, our "tolerance" bought us? It has bought us 9/11 and 7/7. It has brought us conflict after conflict Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, just to mention the few. The forces of Democracy allied with the forces of Communism.

    Re-Imagine a world where we had agreed with the fascists, where strict control was maintained, the Communist and Zeoinists destroyed. A world of peace and safety for those who supported the ideals. A world without terror, without Middle Eastern tension, without communism. A better world. An orderly world.

    With strict rules, controls and surveillance we can create that world now! A Better World, for us, for our children, for generations to come. We can snuff out all that hinders us. Simply trust in us NuGov.

    Do you believe in Freedom? Do you think people should be "Free" to trade pornography? Child pornography? Act violently? Observe illegal acts? Endager themselves and others through their activity choices? Should people be Free to endager our way of life? Should teachers be allowed to act immorally in their own time? Would it not be better to monitor the populace to ensure they are acting in the best interests of the community.

    Re-Imagine the past, Re-Imagine the future.

    Join NuGov. Join the Future.

    Yes... I dislike this word, Re-Imagine...

  20. Martin Usher

    Thiis one's going to suck big time...

    The book is worth reading because it is so up to date. The action might take place pre-WW1 but its got all the elements and is as fast paced as any modern spy thriller. Its got the lot, including cars and planes, with the only contemporary difference being the London to Scotland train journey (fast and reliable with walk up ticket purchase)(those were the days...).

    I suppose re-imagining is important because MinTruth doesn't want citizens to infer any history that deviates from the official line due to the misinterpretation of old books. If they realized that, for example, the Cold War predated WW2 and, indeed, that anti-Russian sentiment predates WW1 then they might have a problem interpreting contemporary events correctly. (This particular story involves Germans and submarines but another famous (children's) story from this era has the father figure being hauled away to jail by the security services for selling naval secrets to the Russians. These just don't fit contemporary patterns of thinking so they have to be "re-interpreted" for us.)

  21. Pete "oranges" B.


    There are to I would like this to pan out (forgetting the nigh-infinite number of atrocious ones):

    1. A very long, very close interpretation that will be enjoyed by those who like the book (my self included), but eschewed by pro critics and the general public.

    2. A James Bondian / post-steampunk rewrite, which will be the first in an epic trilogy.

    I can see it now, three whole movies packed with, Zeppelins with lighting guns, huge landships, flying u-boats, steam powered mecha, rocket assisted biplanes, Russian clones, death rays, auto revolvers, water cooled submachineguns, motorcycle lance cavalry, daring escapes in hijacked enemy aircraft, secret bases in medieval castles, the list could go on.

    Ok, so that wouldn't be close to the book at all, but it would be ripping good adventure/war/spy movie.

    Of course there is also the distinct possibility that I'm the only one who would go see such a movie. But I can dream can't I?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    you think that's bad

    just wait for the hollywood remake of Edge of Darkness

  23. Dave Bell

    I'm not optimistic

    And "re-imagine" is particularly worrying, while the timing seems rather tight.

    I fear we're going to get a bit of a rushed hack-job.

    But consider the visual quality of the re-imagined "Doctor Who". And remember that people want wide-screen material. If the BBC is thinking ahead, it'll be produced in HDTV format, and they'll have a version which has some life in the market.

    At least they're starting from a good story. But I wonder how they'd handle "Greenmantle"?

    (Yeah, the green coat. What did you expect?)

  24. Mr Larrington

    Hey, look down there!

    I can see Robert Powell! What a marvellous example of the power of TV!

    FFS, they're getting as bad as the remake-frenzied bowl of dicks that is Hollywood.

    (Makes plans to spend Crimbling-Yule locked in the shed with a case of Bruichladdich)

  25. Tim Porter

    None of the previous adapations have been that faithful...

    ...for the simple fact that a lot of the book concentrates on Hannay in the Scottish moors - great to read, but it doesn't lend itself to thrilling visual pleasure. Consequently, all the previous versions have departed in their own way from the book.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Now, I'd pay to watch that movie! Twice!

  27. andy gibson

    Samuel L Jackson as Hannay

    What are the thirty f*cking nine motherf*cking steps muthaf*cka?

  28. Anonymous Coward

    a really obscure and inflammatory idea for the media

    Rather than re-#ing old classics, retelling old stories and vamping up the more recent crap that we, the erstwhile consumer has to wade through to find something worth spending time on... why not try doing something NEW ? Do you like my new "chaps" with penis warmer icon?

  29. W
    Dead Vulture


    As far as I can tell, 'reimagining' is intended as == 'interpretation'.

    The latter is perfectly sufficient.

    Another possible explanation would be that 'reimagining' is simply == remembering.

    Not that I'm against the expansion of vocabulary. I just prefer that new words are developed as a result of necessary situations rather than sheer ignorance.

    Reimagine is a vulgarism in the same vein as "winningest". A ridiculous concoction, most recently achieving notoriety as a term to describe Michael Phelps' record achievements at the Olympics (although dating back to the 70s).

    Yours pedanticisticalisationally,


  30. m

    Won't be as good as...

    ...the amazing Bonekickers ;)

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    re-imagine ... AC at 15:11

    "What an interesting word" ... what a fantastic response. Almost makes me wish I'd voted for NuLabo(u)r... almost, but not quite.

  32. Cherry

    Consider yourselves lucky...

    Consider yourselves lucky you're not located in the U.S. being subjugated to BBC America whose tagline is "bloody brilliant television." HA! Try "bloody awful!" With each day, us Yanks (yes, I'm one of THEM, and please do not outwardly cringe or throw refuse) are bombarded by BBCA's wonderfully enriching and soul-satisfying programming with such lovely titles as, "Britain's Worst Teeth, "My Big Breasts/Small Breasts," etc. Or another Gordon Ramsay or old Monty Python. If you don't like it, you can always turn the telly off, or come visit me and we'll spend afternoon watching "Jerry Springer." Seriously thinking about cancelling my cable and just buying DVDs of "Wire," "Insp. Lynley," etc. Oh, and I think they should leave "39 Steps" alone. If I wanted "re-imagining" updated version I'd look at something like "24." Cheers--Cherry

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