What to Watch Verdict
A fun-filled adventure that can be enjoyed by the whole family
With spectacular set pieces and daring escapes, this was television worthy of any big budget movie.
With so much adventure to pack in, we discovered little of Phileas Fogg's tortured backstory.
This post contains spoilers for Around The World In 80 Days episodes 1 & 2.
There have been many screen versions of Jules Verne’s 1872 classic novel over the years, but this latest adaptation brought the tale to a new audience on Boxing Day, in an adventure the entire family could enjoy.
It’s critics may have playfully dubbed BBC1’s new series ‘Around The Woke In 80 Days’, but even the greatest stories must move with the times and one of the most enjoyable aspects of this opening double-bill was Phileas Fogg’s personal voyage of self-discovery.
In the novel, Fogg is an infallible individual who seems unworried by any aspect of his monumental jaunt, yet David Tennant’s leading man is far more timid and we could be forgiven for wondering how he’d cope outside his own house - let alone on a global road trip - when we first met him.
Nevertheless, a sinister postcard branding him a coward and some goading from his pals at The Reform Club soon had Fogg on his way, as he took up the challenge Abigail Fix (Leonie Benesch) outlined in her uncredited newspaper column.
Fix is a male detective who pursues Fogg in the book, yet screenwriter Ashley Pharoah has turned him into a woman to even the gender numbers and she certainly feels like a very modern creation. Let’s hope there's more to her character than her tenacious spirit, otherwise she risks becoming merely a device for off-setting the source material's rigid patriarchy.
Fix is undoubtedly the driving force behind the trio of travellers, especially compared to her other companion Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma), who manages to get himself a job as Fogg’s valet thanks to a pathetic level of scrutiny. Indeed no one has secured a position they were so wildly unqualified for since the Prime Minister announced his last cabinet.
Tonight’s first stop in Paris dug deep into Passepartout’s back story and dropped our stars into the centre of a political uprising, while also serving to build a connection between the French valet and Miss Fix, something we feel could grow as the series goes on.
Our heart went out to poor Passepartout as he was forced to choose between his brother and his future, but we can’t blame him for deciding not to join his sibling on what was clearly a suicide mission. After all, principles are great, until someone’s pointing a gun at you. However it seems our French friend is not only running away from his problems, but desperately seeking something he's been missing. Let’s hope he finds it over the next few weeks.
Passepartout's backstory aside, the first episode was a spectacular opening salvo, with the attempted assassination of the French president and the hot air ballon escape impressively executed on a BBC budget. We hope they didn’t blow all their cash in the first episode and the teetering train in this evening’s second episode suggests there’s plenty left in the tank.
Another highlight was the sweeping score by Hans Zimmer (whose film credits include the likes of Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Dark Knight), which added an epic aura to this sweeping period adventure and really complimented the first chapter's spectacular finale.
Seeing the trio float across the Alps in such style was a breathtaking moment, but it wasn’t until the end of the evening’s second episode that Fogg, Fix, and Passepartout were finally ready for the colossal challenge that lay before them. Fix and Passepartout had both wobbled along the way, yet most of their doubts came from their leader, so we were delighted to see Fogg face down his demons and save the Italian train from disaster at the last.
Bring on the next adventure!
When will Around the World In 80 Days continue?
The eight-part series will continue with another double-bill on Sunday 2nd January 2022.
Sean has been writing about all things telly for over 10 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are The Great British Bake-Off, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.