Unlike the more famous earlier adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock, it keeps the novel's 1914 setting, but some liberties are taken to suit the 21st century idea of a proper spy thriller.
This TV Movie contains examples of:
- Anachronism Stew: The scene where Hannay is chased by a biplane features a 1916 model fighter plane, and the car chases feature vehicles from the 1920s; the film-makers' excuse was that cars actually available in 1914 didn't have the oomph for an exciting chase. Then there's the building Hannay lives in (post-War Art Deco architecture) and the train he catches (a 1920s locomotive pulling 1950s carriages).
- Cool Guns: Scudder is armed with a Nagant M1895.
- Disney Death: Victoria is apparently killed in the climactic fight, but the final scene reveals that she survived.
- Homage: The scene with the plane is a homage to that other Alfred Hitchcock classic North By Northwest.
- Not His Sled: Unlike in the novel, the mysterious phrase "the 39 steps" refers to a flight of stairs leading down to a Scottish loch.
- Shirtless Scene: It's got Rupert Penry-Jones in it, what do you expect?
- Token Romance: Adds a romance with a young woman Hannay meets while he's on the run.