London 1914. Mining engineer Richard Hannay (a dashing Rupert Penry-Jones) is deathly bored, but his life is about to pick up some when a freelance spy is killed in his apartment and Hannay must elude the police before he is tried for a murder he did not commit. And that''s just the first 10 minutes of this briskly paced espionage thriller based on John Buchan''s novel that inspired the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock classic. Comparisons are inevitable and unfortunate, because except for a few missteps (the most grievous being heavy-handed narration that hammers home what viewers already know), this is still a ripping yarn and a fine romance between Hannay and Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard), a suffragette who gets over her initial dislike of the chauvinistic Hannay ("Prehistoric bore!") to help him identify a British traitor and foil a German spy ring. Sticklers may balk at some glaring anachronisms, but rather than carp about the biplane that bears down on Hannay with machine guns blazing, it is better to smile at the playful homage to Hitchcock''s North by Northwest. --Donald Liebenson
BBC''s new adaptation of John Buchan''s thriller is the best ever! Richard Hannay (Rupert Penry-Jones) finds himself framed for a murder he didn''t commit. Now he has to break a ruthless German espionage network to prove his innocence and, more importantly and patriotically, warn the admiralty that its plans have fallen to the enemy. Full of excitement, danger, fun and romance, The 39 Steps is a remarkable tale of an ordinary man who puts his country''s interests before his own safety.
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