The 39 Steps, BBC1
Affinity, ITV

The BBC's remake of John Buchan's 'The 39 Steps' follows a long tradition of being unfaithful to the book

Was there ever a piece of work more likely to cause family discord than The 39 Steps? Watching the latest BBC adaptation, Mother (who has only seen the 1935 Hitchcock version) asks "But where is Mr Memory?".

Daughter (who has only seen the 1959 version) says "And what about the scene in the girls' school?" Father (who has only seen the 1978 version) says: "No, no – at this point they should be hanging off Big Ben." Grandma (who has only read the book) says: "You're all wrong. There isn't a single woman in The 39 Steps."

Everyone loses their temper, and granny is a step closer to being entrusted to a home. But she's right; there aren't any women in John Buchan's novel. There isn't a Mr Memory, nor any basis for the scene in which Robert Donat has to stay handcuffed to Madeleine Carroll while she gets out of her wet stockings (worse things have happened to a man).

But what is in the book has never mattered much. It's simply a starting gun for the imagination. Published in 1915, its secret message, stamped on every page, is "Enlist! Enlist!". Buchan provides atmosphere, character and the bare bones of plot; screenwriters and directors make the skeleton dance. Hitchcock did it best; this new BBC attempt is unlikely to endure.

It started with an appalling voiceover. Rupert Penry-Jones (dashing, adorable) sighed that "London was cliquey, claustrophobic and class-bound". Only a 2008 scriptwriter could have thought of those words.

Next, it was very taken with its plotline about a suffragette (winningly played by Lydia Leonard) who turned out to be the real puppet master of the piece – the inevitable fate for any book originally designed as a fable of male empowerment. The pace was good; the music huffed and puffed hysterically; the tone, Spooks-like, was gauchely sincere yet arch, its fingers crossed behind its back. Ultimately the hero and heroine slavered mustard on each others' wounds, which they managed to do with admirably straight faces. Bring back good, clean, old-fashioned stockings and handcuffs, I say.

Affinity (ITV) was Prisoner Cell Block H goes Victoriana, Bad Girls in mob caps: dykey wardens jangling keys (and vowels), lady visitors with quivering petticoats, orgasmic wails from neighbouring cells ... A lead role was played by a ghostly vaporising hairpiece – this was, after all, set in a time when spiritualism was widely practised but no one believed in lesbians. Sarah Waters, unlike Buchan, is a supreme plotter, precise as a watchmaker, and this adaptation by Andrew Davies was a good working copy, even if it planted too few clues and rushed the marvellous denouement.

Home alone on New Year's Eve with the norovirus, I felt an overwhelming need to be part of what was going on at midnight, and groped for the telly. There were forced smiles down at the Thames fireworks (BBC1); Elton pounding out his hits over gruesome footage of a lookalike Marilyn (ITV); and Jools Holland offering the most convincing jollity with a studio party full of famous friendly faces (BBC2). And so I discovered TV's divine provision: company when you need it.

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
Arts and Entertainment
The episode saw the surprise return of shifty caravan owner Susan Wright, played by a Pauline Quirke (ITV)

Review: Broadchurch

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore