Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, inspired numerous real-life attempts to navigate the globe, as well as various film, TV, and radio adaptations of varying success. The latest TV adaption by the BBC stars a perfectly cast David Tennant as the globe-trotting adventurer Phileas Fogg, and judging from the preview, it looks like a particular entertaining way to kick of the new year.
(Spoilers for the 1873 Jules Verne novel below.)
Fogg is the novel’s main protagonist, a gentleman of modest fortune who gets into an argument with his pals at the Reform Club over a newspaper article about the opening of a new railway section in India,. The article claims this makes it possible to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. Fogg’s colleagues are skeptical, so he makes a wager that he can accomplish the feat. It’s a significant wager, too, amounting to half of Fogg’s fortune, with the other half required to finance his journey. If he doesn’t succeed, he will be ruined. Fogg takes his new valet, Passepartout, with him, departing London by train. Complicating matters is a Scotland Yard detective named Fix, who mistakes Fogg for a fugitive bank robber and tracks the pair throughout their travels.
Their means of transport include trains, steamers, paddle boats, ships, a wind-powered sledge, and even an elephant at one point. They rescue a young Indian woman named Aouda in Bombay, and overcome bison herds blocking a railroad track, Passepartout’s kidnapping by Sioux warriors, hurricane winds, and a fuel shortage as they make their way back to London.
Fogg initially thinks he has lost his wager—and his fortune—since Fix briefly arrests him once he’s back on British soil, before realizing the actual bank robber had been apprehended three days before. Then Fogg realizes that, in fact, they had lost a day during their travels, and makes it back to his club in the nick of time. He wins the bet (sharing the winnings with Passepartout and Fix) and marries Aouda.
Verne was fascinated by all the technological innovations of the late 19th century, especially the First Transcontinental Railroad in the US and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, as well as the linking of Indian railways across the continent the following year. Global tourism was now a reality, at least for gentlemen of means. An Englishman named Thomas Cook was the first to complete an around-the-world trip over seven months in 1872, and a newspaper article about the feat may have influenced Verne. The author may also have drawn inspiration from the world trips of one George Francis Train, and Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “Three Sundays in a Week,” which also involves a lost day as a plot device.
Verne’s story, in turn, inspired the late 19th century journalist Nellie Bly to make her own world tour, completing the trip in 72 days. She even met Verne in Amiens, and wrote her own bestselling book about her adventures. Monty Python alum Michael Palin made the charming TV travelogue, Around the World in 80 Days with Michael Palin, in 1988, detailing his recreation of Fogg’s journey, without resorting to airplanes. There was a 1989 miniseries adaptation starring Pierce Brosnan, and a heavily anachronistic 2004 film starring Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan, as Fogg and Passepartout, respectively. (The latter was a critical and box office failure, although it did garner a couple of Razzie Award nominations.)
In addition to Tennant, this new adaptation stars Ibrahim Koma as Passepartout and Leonie Benesch as Abigail Fix, a journalist (no doubt inspired by Bly). Shivani Ghai plays Aouda, and Peter Sullivan plays Fogg’s primary antagonist, Nyle Bellamy. Per the official synopsis: “Following an outrageous bet, Fogg and his valet, Passepartout, take on the legendary journey of circumnavigating the globe in just 80 days, swiftly joined by aspiring journalist Abigail Fix, who seizes the chance to report on this extraordinary story.”
The trailer opens with our intrepid trio taking a stagecoach ride across the Old West, which serves as the perfect mechanism for introducing them. We also see Fogg announce his ambitious goal of circumventing the globe in 80 days, drawing laughter from the stodgy men in his private club. “Some are born to adventure, and others frankly are not,” Bellamy tells him, clearly implying that Fogg is the latter. There’s some truth to that: Fogg is prone to seasickness, for starters, and when he gets a fly in his eye while walking through a field, he briefly panics, to Abigail’s exasperation.
Of course, we already know that Fogg will exceed all expectations on that score, rising to every occasion as necessary, despite his comfortable, sheltered life to date. Tennant is utterly charming here, striking the perfect balance of energetic curiosity, enthusiasm, and just enough fastidiousness to keep us chuckling. And there seems to be good chemistry among the three leads. We’re looking to this one. Let the adventure begin!
Around the World in 80 Days premieres on BBC1 in the UK and on Masterpiece PBS in the US on January 2, 2022.
Listing image by YouTube/Masterpiece PBS