Scottish anger at Australian version of 'Thirty-Nine Steps'

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Plans to relocate the exploits of one of cinema's most famous fictional heroes from the wilds of Scotland to the Australian outback were condemned yesterday as a snub to the Caledonian film industry.

The latest in a number of movies based on John Buchan's novel The Thirty-Nine Steps will see the action sequences played out in the bush rather than among the heather of the Scottish hills. Robert Towne, a leading Hollywood screenwriter, producer and director, has transferred the backdrop of the plot to the other side of the world. A spokesman for Village Roadshow Pictures, the production company behind the movie, said that shooting in Australia was cheaper.

The decision to snub Scotland, a country central to the original plot, is a blow to Scotland's film industry. That has been compounded by the fact that the star tipped to play Richard Hannay is Mel Gibson, the Australian who portrayed Sir William Wallace in Braveheart, which gave a boost to the Scottish tourism industry.

Steve McIntyre, chief executive of Scottish Screen, said: "It's immensely disappointing that a film that is absolutely linked in the public mind with Scotland will not be made here."

There have been three films based on the novel, which has never been out of print since it was published 86 years ago.

The story revolves around Hannay, a South African tourist who stumbles upon a foreign spy ringwhile visiting London and flees on the train north.

The first big screen adaptation was by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935, starring Robert Donat. There followed a colour version in 1959 starring Kenneth More and another remake in 1978 with Robert Powell. All three films used Scotland as a backdrop to the plot.

Professor John Izod, of Stirling University's film and media studies unit, said Scotland no longer had the mystic aura that it did in Hitchcock's day. "Perhaps the film makers feel that Australia with its wide open, uninhabited spaces can fulfil that need for a dramatic and mysterious backdrop."