Ready for the voyage? A brand new BBC adaptation of Around the World In 80 Days is taking viewers on a globe-trotting adventure, and the first episode has plenty of ticking-clock tension. Warning: this article contains spoilers.
When the days are dark and you’re in need of comforting TV, you can never go far wrong with a book-to-screen adaptation. From Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love to Sally Rooney’s Normal People, seeing our favourite characters on the small screen can feel like gathering with a group of old friends, which is especially welcome in times when many of us are separated from the ones we love.
The BBC have brilliant form when it comes to creating such adaptations, and now, they’re adding another to their catalogue: Around The World In 80 Days. Based on the classic 19th century novel by French author Jules Verne, and starring David Tennant as literature’s most famous explorer, Phileas Fogg, the new eight-part series promises to sweep viewers away with a string of extraordinary adventures.
Many people, of course, will already feel familiar with the tale of Fogg and his attempt to circumnavigate the globe faster than anyone in history. Thanks in large part to the numerous adaptations of the story, Verne’s story has endured in the cultural imagination – but you don’t need to have read the original novel to be hooked by the BBC’s new spin.
Set in 1872, the first episode throws us into the heart of Victorian London, where Phileas Fogg’s elderly manservant Grayson (Richard Wilson) brings his master his morning tea tray with the post. Fogg is startled to find a postcard with one single word scrawled on the back: ‘coward’ – but neither he nor Grayson have any idea who delivered it.
Meanwhile, at The Daily Telegraph, we find journalist Abigail ‘Fix’ Fortescue (Leonie Benesch) pacing outside the press looking stressed. She’s anxious to see a copy of the newspaper, she explains to a workman, as it contains her first ever credit. At that moment, the press start to roll, and she smiles as she peruses a newly printed paper.
Elsewhere, Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma) arrives at the exclusive gentlemen’s hangout, the Reform Club, to begin work, just as Fogg arrives looking dejected. His friends Nyle Bellamy (Peter Sullivan) and Bernard Fortescue (Jason Watkins) ask him if anything is the matter; Fogg insists he’s fine.
Bellamy, reading from the newspaper, comments on an article which claims that it’s possible to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. It’s “absolute rot”, he says, but it captures Fogg’s attention. He tells Bellamy that it’s actually perfectly possible, if a man is well-organised, resilient, and takes advantage of recent technological advances. In fact, Fogg continues, he planned a similar excursion himself, once upon a time.
Bellamy and Fortescue mock him and remind him that he only got as far as Victoria station. “Some were born to adventure,” Bellamy declares. “And others, frankly, are not.”
Just at that moment, Fix storms into the members club, despite loud protestations from staff that the Reform Club is “members only, no women allowed.” She confronts her father and asks him why her byline in the newspaper has been given to a man. Her father explains that he has his “readers to consider”, but that he’ll see Abigail in his office later that afternoon to discuss the matter.
As Fix leaves the building in a fury, Passepartout attempts to console her.”You’re best out of it,” he tells her. “This is a place where souls come to die.”
Back inside the club, Fogg ponders the article in The Daily Telegraph, and the cogs start to whir. Fogg tells Fortescue that his daughter has written a fascinating article, and that someone will indeed manage to travel around the world in 80 days. “It won’t be you,” mocks Bellamy. Fogg looks hurt, and in a flashback, we seem him thinking about the postcard that arrived in the morning post. He’s made up his mind.
“I’m going to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days,” he declares loudly. “Or less”. His friends burst into peals of laughter, followed by the rest of the Reform Club. Spurred on by their disbelief, Fogg says that he’ll set off that very day. Bellamy goads him and bets £10,000 that he won’t do it. Fogg bets £20,000 that he will, and adds that he’ll return no later than one o’clock on Christmas Eve. The wager is set.
Meanwhile, Passepartout gets into a fight in the servants quarters and flees the building – but not before he overhears Fogg asking a bellboy at reception to send a valet to his house. Passepartout then intercepts the bellboy and turns up to meet Fogg just as he arrives back home, pretending to be the valet from the agency.
Fogg momentarily appears to recognise Passepartout, but fortunately, he gets distracted and asks him to pack his bags. Fogg packs a few belongings, too, including the postcard and a hip flask engraved with a personalised message: “To my darling fellow traveler, always yours”.
At that very same moment, Fix is hatching a plan: she’s going to accompany Fogg on his voyage. She informs her father that she’ll need expenses for her new regular column, ‘Around the world with Abigail Fix’. Fortescue is outraged; but his daughter threatens to go to The Times if he doesn’t agree to publish her column. “I’m going to be a proper writer,” she declares, telling her father that she can’t make a name for herself in London where she’s so restricted by patriarchal customs.
Fortescue agrees to sign the contract, but pleads with her to be careful. Fix is thrilled. “This is what I was born to do!” she declares as she strides out the door.
The bravado doesn’t last long: in the next scene, Fogg is vomiting over the side of the boat from Dover to Calais. “I think I’m dying,” he says weakly.
Just at that inopportune moment, Fix arrives on the scene and announces to a sickly Fogg that she’s here to cover his progress for The Daily Telegraph. Fogg is appalled. “The last thing I want is some journalist coming with me!” he exclaims. Fix tells him to consider the publicity, but Fogg is adamant that she won’t be coming along.
Later that evening, Passepartout joins Fix outside on the deck. She asks him if he thinks Fogg will make it around the world in 80 days. Passepartout laughs, and says the reason Fogg doesn’t want a journalist coming along is because he knows he’ll fail the challenge. Abigail replies indignantly that she very much hopes that Fogg will prove him wrong.
On day two, they arrive at the railway station in Paris to find the French people protesting against the president. Fogg is aghast, Passepartout looks excited, and Fix immediately gets knocked down by the crowd as she pursues them. Passepartout and a stranger stare at each other in a tense moment – do they know each other? Passepartout tells Fix that Fogg won’t like her pursuing them. She tells him that he’ll just “have to lump it”.
Passepartout then hails a cab, retrieves Fogg from the crowd and ushers them both into the carriage. Fogg tells Fix that he thought he’d made his position perfectly clear, and she replies that she’s decided to ignore him.
Passepartout has something else on his mind, though, and it’s not the drama between Fogg and Fix. He stops the carriage and gets out, telling Fogg that he’s going to arrange the hire of a carriage to pick up the train in Italy. Fix is suspicious of Passepartout, though, and asks Fogg what he really knows about his new French valet. Curious, she then gets out of the carriage and pursues Passepartout through the streets. She eventually finds him in front of a wall riddled with bullet holes. Passepartout tells Fix that this is the place where his father’s life ended by firing squad. Tragically, he was killed by the government because he “believed in a better world”.
Just then, Passepartout is greeted by an old friend, Gerard, who asks him where he’s been all these years. Passepartout says he’s been travelling through different countries and working all kinds of jobs. Gerard then offers Fix “the story of a lifetime”.
Meanwhile, the crowds are getting rowdier, and Fogg’s carriage gets raided. Terrified, he runs off, where he’s pursued by a gaggle of children.
Abigail and Passepartout accompany Gerard past a commune, which he tells them was destroyed by president Adolphe Thiers, who turned the cannons on his own people. He then takes them to a rundown building which looks out over a square. He says that in one hour, he plans to assassinate the president of the republic, and that they will all die together when the police discover their hiding spot.
Fix and Passepartout are petrified, but there’s nothing they can do while being held at gunpoint. Fix says that perhaps Fogg will come to their rescue, but Passepartout gives a dark laugh. Fogg is a “complete fool,” he says.
Suddenly, the president arrives outside. Passepartout pleads one last time with Gerard and tell him that more killing isn’t the answer. But Gerard simply takes position at a broken window and cocks his gun.
At that very moment, we see Fogg comically elbowing his way through the crowds who have assembled to see the president. Somehow, he manages to reach the front of the crowd and catch the attention of the president, shouting that he’s looking for a woman.
From the window opposite, Fix spots Fogg in the centre of the crowd, and shouts to catch his attention. Fogg sees her and shouts back that he’s going to return to London. Unbeknownst to Fogg, though, he’s now wandered into Gerard’s line of fire. Gerard, desperate for a shot at the president, pulls the trigger and shoots Fogg in the chest.
As Fogg falls to the ground, the crowd erupts and a shootout begins between the police and Gerard’s men. In the ensuing chaos, Passepartout and Fix manage to flee the building; but Gerard stays behind and sacrifices himself for the movement.
Outside, laying on the ground, we discover that Fogg has made a miraculous escape. Gerard’s bullet, it transpires, has rebounded off the hip flask tucked inside Fogg’s inside pocket. Giddy with relief, he reunites with Passepartout and Fix, and the three of them flee the police.
Sprinting through the backstreets, Passepartout leads them to a yard bordered by enormous iron gates. Inside stands a magnificent hot air balloon. Fogg asks its elderly owner to name his price, but he refuses to sell it. The owner says that he built it for his wife, Marie Rose, but sadly, she died before he could complete it and go on their travels together.
Outside the yard, the police are attempting to break through the gates. With nowhere to run, Fogg gives a moving speech to the owner, proving that despite his bluster and ineptitude, he has a kind heart – and, it’s suggested, lived experience of love and loss.
The hot air ballon deserves to fly, Fogg tells its owner, “like a bird, an angel”, in memory of his beloved wife. “No man in the world knows more about lost opportunity than me,” he continues.
The owner is moved by Fogg’s words, and instructs him to take the hot air balloon and “make my wife proud”. Just at that moment, the police finally manage to break into the yard. As they search for the trio of runways, the police chief looks to the sky, where Fogg, Fix and Passepartout are floating away above the city.
Exhausted and relieved in the safety of the basket, Fogg has a change of heart and tells Fix that he would like her chronicle the adventure after all. Fix replies that she’d consider it an honour. Passepartout, taking a sip from the lucky hip flask, tells Fogg that whoever gifted it to him saved his life. As the sun sets on the perilous second day of their adventure, Fogg returns to his happy-go-lucky self. “Around the world, my friends: in 80 days!”
The first episode of Around The World In 80 Days is available to stream on BBC iPlayer now.
Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.