Yesterday I saw the weirdest made-for-TV movie ever: 39 Nine Steps (BBC, 2008 – free on youtube), written by a Lizzie Mickery. I had first read it was a spy thriller set before WWI.
OK, let’s give it a try. It starts with a pretty intense running away scene. It’s the classic Grisham plot (although he’s not the author): the innocent dashing hero, Richard Hannay, is at the scene of the murder of a spy and is therefore believed to be the murderer, so he runs for his life from the police and the real murderers, and must be clever at every turn as he decides to solve the crime by himself. This is going to be a fast-paced movie, with lots of suspense and danger, I thought.
Well, it was all very nice, with a million twists and turns, except the movie very quickly turns into a complete farce fit for 11 year olds, in the sense that the hero (and his quickly added woman companion) start getting away from completely impossible situations again and again and again.
My brain first started going, “Wait a second… What just happened here? This simply would not have been possible.” But then you’re like, “OK, maybe it could have happened, like one in a million chances, he made it somehow.” The second part of your brain then starts trying to convince the first part of the opposite. And the first part of your brain is still thinking rationally, “No, no, listen, this would not have been possible.” The second part of your brain insists, “It has to be possible, because he just did it.” “No way.” “It happened, you saw it”. And you get this uneasy feeling of being told authoritatively that 2+2 is somehow 5.
As you sort of re-classify the first impossible incident as maybe somehow somewhere, who knows, two minutes later… “Wait a second. What did this guy just do now? That’s impossible!” Then two minutes later…
Then you realize you’ve been had by the description of this movie as a “spy thriller” – read realistic. And the ridiculous “photographic memory” thing. Jeez.
The movie has a really fun romance, though, following the spy story. But then it even twists the romance ridiculously at the very end. The end where she is shot and falls into the lake was one of the most horrible endings I have ever seen. Why? Because the movie is such light, entertaining farce. It’s not the kind of movie that the woman hero would die tragically at the end, after the lovers finally admitted their love, etc. etc. It felt like I had been kicked. What awful writing.
And then, the most stupid scene ever happens. The movie tells you: Oh wait, she didn’t really drown after being shot and falling into a lake with the hero diving after her and not even seeing her body – meaning it had sunk real deep, beyond reach. Somehow she got away swimming after being shot and under water without oxygen for 30 minutes.
Awful. How does such a bad ending get approved by a whole chain of executives? I don’t understand it.
But I thought Rupert Penry-Jones was a great choice for the hero character. Handsome and athletic and dashing and sensitive and all.