Benedict Cumberbatch to Star in 'The 39 Steps' Limited Series for Netflix

Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, The Imitation Game) is set to star in a limited series adaptation of author John Buchan’s novel The 39 Steps, which updates the story for the modern era. The book was previously adapted into a beloved movie by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. Netflix has scored the rights to the new series adaptation, which has Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) writing the scripts and Edward Berger, who previously worked with Cumberbatch on the Showtime series Patrick Melrose, directing every episode.

Deadline reports that Cumberbatch will star in a new version of Buchan’s The 39 Steps, which has been adapted into a play, a video game, and four movies since its publication in 1915. This new iteration is described as “a provocative, action-packed conspiracy thriller series that updates the classic novel for relevance in contemporary times. An ordinary man, Richard Hannay, becomes an unwitting pawn in a vast, global conspiracy to reset the world order: 39 Steps that will change the world as we know it, with only Hannay standing in the way.”

Hitchcock’s adaptation veered away from the book, but still has the same “wrong man on the run” vibe that many of his most famous American films would later have. (It also features a scene of the lead character being chased by a plane, which Hitchcock would famously use again in the Cary Grant-led North by Northwest.) In the story, the “39 Steps” is the name of a mysterious organization of spies, and the Hannay character is the archetypal frazzled hero who must figure out what’s going on while the police and a band of international assassins are hunting him.

Here’s a trailer for Hitchcock’s adaptation, which starred Robert Donat as Hannay:

There’s plenty of potential in a modern version of this story, although I chafe a little at the idea of Hollywood producing any stories right now that give credence to conspiracy theories. Real world conspiracy theories have become more dangerous than ever, so the idea of a film or television show helping us sympathize with someone who buys into one and then proving them correct gets my personal hackles up at the moment – but your mileage may vary on that front.

Deadline says there will be “six or more hourlong episodes” in this Netflix version, and the production is “most likely to shoot next year in Europe when schedules clear.” Cumberbatch and his producing partner Adam Ackland will executive produce alongside Smith, Berger, Sophie Gardiner, Cliff Roberts, and Keith Redmon.

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