The Weekend's Television - The 39 Steps, Sun BBC1/Caught in a Trap, Boxing Day ITV1

Not a great escape


The 39 Steps started well, with Richard Hannay reclining languidly, and Rupert Penry-Jones gave good languid in a London club while the resident Colonel Blimps bored on about cricket. It took about 15 seconds for everything to go pear-shaped: "Everything in England," Hannay mused in voice-over, "seemed cliquey, claustrophobic, class-bound." Hold on, let's go over that again: "class-bound"? That's not something you'd ever find a John Buchan hero worrying about. What kind of pinkos do you think they are? And if we're going to plaster modern liberal values over the heroes of yesteryear, where will it all end? I foresee Holmes explaining to Watson that Moriarty is a victim of his upbringing and deserves our compassion, James Bond telling Pussy Galore that he respects her sexual choices and hopes they can remain friends, and a remake of Zulu with the two sides settling differences via a truth and reconciliation commission.

After that, the initial plot set-up – spy entrusts vital coded messages to Hannay seconds before he gets murdered, and Hannay gets fingered for the job; Hannay flees to Scotland – was reasonably smooth. But then Hannay fell in with a woman, and everything slid downhill, because this wasn't just a woman, this was a feisty suffragette, determined to show Hannay that a girl can be every bit as brave and resourceful as a man. Suddenly, our self-reliant hero, with all his energy and fieldcraft, became a dribbling, indecisive cretin, at every turn needing to be told what to do and where to go, or to have his failing nerve shored up. Having been so very concerned about class division, he suddenly switched tack to become a caricature Victorian chauvinist pig, constantly patronising the little woman and then ending up with egg on his face as she proved herself his superior as marksman, map reader and sexual adventurer. I'd be interested to see how Lizzie Mickery, the screenwriter, would handle Hamlet. Ophelia, fed up with all his wavering, takes matters into her own hands, duelling Laertes to a standstill, whacking Claudius, and abolishing the monarchy in favour of a republic with universal suffrage.

Most people aren't bothered about fidelity to the source material (though my advice to the people who commission this drivel is, as always: if you're not interested in the source material, why not have the wit to make up something new?). What viewers care about is plot and action, in which case they will have been chewing the upholstery off the sofa in paroxysms of tedium and puzzlement, as the feisty suffragette turned out to be a traitor – no, she's a British spy! – and now she's dead! – no, she's mysteriously alive! By the end, my impression was that several pages of the plot must have been eaten by a dog, or a bored actor, and the director had decided, sod it, nobody's going to keep watching this long. Which I wouldn't have if I wasn't being paid.

Caught in a Trap was surprisingly easy to sit through. Connie Fisher, of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? fame, played Gemma, a lonely young woman with a job at the local council collecting money from parking meters. Friendless at work, unhappy at home with her weak-willed father and harridan stepmother, she lost herself in an obsession with Elvis Presley. Having realised how easy it was to pocket a pound here and there from the meters, she embarked on a career of petty fraud that soon spiralled into something much more serious, stealing thousands and going on an Elvis spree, buying up every scrap of tat and memorabilia she could find, and soon coming to realise that doom of one sort or another can't be long postponed.

Fisher was cunningly cast. It needed someone with her charm and apparent vulnerability to make Gemma's dishonesty, irrationality and self-absorption come across as a cry for help rather than a mental disorder. Even so, the finale was hard to swallow. In prison, Gemma found a new confidence to make friends, and finally accepted the love that the devoted, stuttering boy next door has been pressing on her throughout. Meanwhile, back at the office, the vampish girl who was her nemesis was put to work cataloguing all the Elvisiana, preparatory to a sale that would make back all the council's money, and she couldn't stand Elvis. Clearly, we were meant to feel that Gemma had found redemption, and the nasty girl had got her comeuppance. That worked only if you could avoid thinking, even a little bit, about which one was stuck in prison.

I couldn't help wondering, too, whether the balance of sympathy could have been maintained if Gemma was played by somebody older, fatter or wartier. In real life, the woman Gemma was based on was in her mid-forties, and not nearly so sylph-like, and the council didn't make their money back, because she had paid stupid prices for the goods. But, hey, if you can't get away with unrealistic optimism on Boxing Day, when can you get away with it?

r.hanks@independent.co.uk

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit