Saturday, 17 January 2009

The So-Called Thirty-Nine Steps, Pt. II

My Mum sent me a press clipping about the Rubbish Thirty-Nine Steps: apparently it's caused all kinds of furore in England. Unfortunately, said furore seems to have mostly occurred on the part of people who read the Daily Mail, which I worry exposes some unconscious right-wing proclivities I might have. The BBC have attempted to justify the manifest inadequacies by arguing that the novel is 'far-fetched' anyway, claiming that the adaptation is 'faithful to the spirit and period of the book' (it isn't, actually) but liberates the writer to 'feel free to re-imagine it for a modern audience'.

All of which begs the question: what is the historical 'grain'? Surely fidelity to the (bad) ideology in the novel would not have seen Penry-Jones's Hannay profit from a learning curve in gender relations - as soon as the protagonist becomes progressive, we stop seeing the rude actualities of the era as Buchan inadvertently exposed them. Surely it's better for a modern audience to have a genuine grasp of the ideological realities of a moment in time so that a genuine sense of historical distance can be created? I'm not sure I agree with the political redemptions or mollifications of characters like Hannay: do we need him to develop in order to become the mouthpiece for a liberalism which we already (and problematically) take for granted? Isn't that just a sop to the vanity of our own moment's self-awarded notion of 'progress'? Does the drama become better when Hannay becomes more likeable?

Rubbish Thirty-Nine Steps now has its own Wikipedia entry.

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