The 39 Steps: An Exciting Bittersweet 1940s Mystery


The 39 Steps (2008) TV Movie Review

When you eavesdrop on a Twitter conversation between two of your friends, sometimes you walk away with a new recommendation. This is how my seeing The 39 Steps came to be. What I came away with was a mostly good Saturday night’s 80-minutes worth of entertainment.

The 39 Steps Rupert Penry Jones

London society no longer holds any kind of appeal for Richard Hannay (Rupert Penry-Jones). As, first a solider and now an engineer returned from Africa, he thrives on being in dangerous places and situations. This is perhaps why, a spy winding up in his flat doesn’t much faze him.

The spy reveals events that could cripple England, already on the cusp of a Second World War. All of this precedes the man’s death, which happens in Richard’s living room. His death sends Richard not just on the run from ruthless men, but also on a quest to clear his name; he stands accused of murder!! Armed with a notebook he doesn’t know how to decode, he finds Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard). When Richard encounters Victoria and her brother (Patrick Kennedy, Bleak House), he is mistaken for someone else. This temporarily offers him a disguise.

Once his pursuers catch up, Richard is again on the run, only this time it’s with a feisty feminist activist in tow. Between Victoria’s mysterious uncle, and a mysterious message the spy left Richard, the pair have a cipher to unravel. Something that may well impact national security.

TV FILM REVIEW | The Lady Vanishes: An Entertaining Disappearing Act Mystery
The 39 Steps

There are some stories that don’t exactly turn out as one expects. This falls among those. Yet it’s still a rollicking good time. Since not everything can be among Foyle’s War caliber that is just what this little mystery is. Speaking to its flaws, it’s far too short to really flesh out, but for a fun caper, The 39 Steps is the ticket. Let’s talk about the cast.

There’s Rupert Penry-Jones, which in and of itself is enough incentive because of Captain Wentworth (whom Jones played). I’ve no notion how he does in comparison to book Wentworth however he is by far the best film Wentworth I’ve met. (Don’t even get me started on a certain gentleman from another adaption. This is a discussion for another day. *wink*) The rest of the cast (with exception to Kennedy) is unknown to me, though everyone seems appropriately cast.

The 39 Steps

Best I can tell and from the little I’ve learned, this is a re-make of a re-make… if that makes any sense. The original is a Hitchcock classic, then there is an oldie 1959 film, all titled the same. What this version lacks in screen time, it makes up for in many other ways. For example, I expected a more serious spy story and instead saw a humorous almost charming little British film that I’ll definitely wish to see again. The adventure Richard and Lydia go on is exciting in unique ways, and I adored their banter. Their on-screen chemistry is some of my most favorite, simply because it’s “sweet” without being terribly sappy.

Those who have seen BBC films like The Lady Vanishes will definitely wish to look into picking up a copy of The 39 Steps. It’s all about the classic British spy caper, which is all “fun and games,” and then throws a loop into the perfect scenario by upsetting the balance of an otherwise perfect setup while careening towards a darling ending. But then, this wouldn’t be a proper British drama if there weren’t some questionable twists. Ambiguous or not, prepare to go on a fantastic adventure.

(Content: there is a bit of minor gun play – Richard is shot at by his pursuers, and a man is shot and killed. There’s a scene during which an unmarried couple spent a night together though nothing improper happens. The film would likely be rated TVPG.)

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.


  1. My, Rupert Henry Jones is so handsome! Loved him also, Rissi, as Captain Wentworth in the movie, Persuasion! Having read the book, I believe he is an ideal match for the character I imagined.

    Wasn't "39 Steps" on PBS a few years back? If so, I missed it, unfortunately… but I am so looking forward to seeing him in "Crown for Christmas" this Christmas Season on the Hallmark Channel!

    1. That's awesome! I knew this actor was amazing as Wentworth. :) I hope to read Persuasion soon as an author told me it's her favorite. Plus, I'd like to read more Austen. Or attempt it.

      I believe this one did air on Masterpiece, yes. I just saw it on DVD because some Twitter friends reminded me of its existence. Unfortunately, I cannot get any PBS stations, so while I know viewers like to watch the productions on TV in support of the stations, I rely on DVD releases to see all of these productions. Either way, I'm with you! I'm anxious to see the actor in the Hallmark film this Christmas too. Methinks he's going to be great. :)

  2. I loved this too. Very fun and cute and exciting — and because of the unexpected plot line I forgot what happened and enjoyed it just as much the second time! Now I've forgotten the end again, so I guess it's about time for a third. ;) Nice review, Rissi!

    1. Always fun to re-watch something – especially when we're not 100% clear on all that happens! I was kind of *shocked* by the ending just because everything previous had been relatively jovial. But all wound up being well, and that's good with me! Thanks so much for reading, Sarah. :)

  3. I need to watch this one again! I watched it several years ago when it came on PBS and really enjoyed it. It would be worth watching again just for Rupert Penry-Jones, since he's so ridiculously attractive. :) I've always meant to watch the Hitchcock version, too…maybe I'll go and add both of them to my Netflix queue.

    1. Exactly, Kristin! This one is worth watching just for the leading actor (he's set to star in a Hallmark Christmas movie this season too – plenty of aw moments there, I am sure)… although there are plenty of other things to recommend it. :D How fun! Let me know what you think of the Hitchcock version if you see it and this when you see them both with fresh opinions. Happy watching.

    1. Hooray! I'm so glad, Hannah. Both took turns I didn't expect, but I wound up liking them so much. It's nice to watch something with a "lighter" approach to the mystery genre.

      Ditto with you both. Plus, he's going to be in a Christmas movie this season… we can all enjoy seeing him in that, I am sure! ;D

  4. I saw this on PBS years ago and only watched it because of R P-J but I was equally impressed with the actress even though I had no idea who she was. I liked this so much that I picked up the book at a library book sale, but I still haven't had time to read it yet. The TBR pile grows and grows…

    1. I was impressed by both leading stars as well, Lis! They played off each other quite well. Oooh, let me know what you think of the book if/when you have a chance to read it. And I hear you on that TBR. It's always there, ready to freak us out, right!? ;)

    1. As did I, Tressa. Favorite movies could always be longer, but as you say, it's preferable that it can be watched in one sitting. That's part of the reason I only watch the 2005 Pride and Prejudice lately. It can be started and completed in one night. :)

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