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Around the World in 80 Days review: David Tennant’s vision of empire is more smarmy than swashbuckling

The adventure begins in the new adaptation of the classic novel (Picture: BBC)

Good God, we need some escapism in our lives right now.

When most of us seem to be stuck inside waiting for PCR results, swigging numbly at the Bailey’s surrounded by a mulch of sweet wrappers and Covid test swabs, a swashbuckling trip around the globe seems like a pretty neat idea.

And while Around the World in 80 Days from the outset might seem like exactly the right kind of show for the moment, it’s a very different take on intrepid exploration than you might expect.

David Tennant leads the cast as gentleman adventurer Phileas Fogg in the BBC’s new adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel, and he cuts an altogether different figure to the loveable interpretations we’ve seen before.

Episode one begins with Phileas in the halls of a stuffy 19th century gentleman’s club, having been jolted from his comfortable life by the arrival of an ominous, unmarked postcard labelling him a coward.

Soon, events conspire to see Phileas propose a trip around the globe in order to win a £20,000 bet, with plucky French servant Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma, charismatic) and the indefatigable journalist Abigail Fix Fortescue (Leonie Benesch, also impressive) along for the ride.

Tennant brings a new take on the character (Picture: BBC)

So far, so Fogg.

But in Paris, we stumble on an assasination plot against the French President, while Phileas ponders ghosts from his past in the economical, if slightly uninspired start to the eight-part series.

But what is clear from episode one is that this is a new take on a familiar story – and it’s an admirable approach to a well loved, if often misinterpreted character.

While David Niven and Steve Coogan both put likeability and affability front and foremost in their performances in 1956 and 2004, David’s Phileas is a colder, more entitled presence from the very start. Rather than the charming and eccentric chap we’ve seen in the past, we have an imperious, and rather smarmy man of the empire presented here.

A new form of Fogg (Picture: BBC / Slim 80 Days)

It’s a very deliberate decision.

David previously criticised Phileas Fogg as representing some of the worst traditions of the British Empire, and wanted to bring a more revealing take to the screen.

‘In many ways Phileas Fogg represents everything that’s alarming and peculiar about that old sense of British Empire. Potentially, it’s a story about an England that should elicit very little sympathy,’ he told the Radio Times.

The results are clear – and expectations should be tempered as a result.

If you’re expecting laughs and swashbuckling action from the off, you might well be disappointed. But for those seeking a more grounded incarnation with a splash of historial inrospection thrown in, this could be the Fogg for them.

Around the World in 80 Days airs on Boxing Day at 5.50pm on BBC One, and is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.

 


Credit: Original article published here.

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