Benedict Cumberbatch Netflix Series ‘The 39 Steps’: What We Know So Far

Benedict Cumberbatch is set to star in this present-day adaptation of the well-known novel.

Tigran Asatryan What's on Netflix Avatar

the 39 steps benedict cumberbatch preview

Continuing its acquisition of highly ambitious IPs paired with big names among cast and crew, Netflix has landed The 39 Steps, a limited series that will star Benedict Cumberbatch. The streamer was eager to acquire this series in February 2021 while it was on sale. Netflix’s The 39 Steps has a very impressive crew, which will result in a quality product. 

Firstly, the limited series will be helmed by Emmy nominee Edward Berger, who directed Cumberbatch before in the acclaimed limited series Patrick Melrose and directed the World War I Netflix drama All Quite On the Western Front.

The script for The 39 Steps will be written by Mark L. Smith, best known for penning the screenplay for the Oscar-winning movie The Revenant. He also wrote the screenplay for the Netflix film The Midnight Sky.

edward berger

Director Edward Berger

Cumberbatch will executive produce the limited series with his producing partner Adam Ackland under their SunnyMarch banner (Patrick Melrose, The Mauritanian). Smith and Berger will also serve as executive producers alongside Sophie Gardiner for Chapter One Pictures, Cliff Roberts for Syndicate Entertainment and Keith Redmon for Anonymous Content (Spotlight, The Revenant, Outlaw King).

Abi Bach is on board to serve as a producer.

What is the plot of The 39 Steps?

Robert Donat Madeleine Carroll The 39 Steps 2

Netflix’s The 39 Steps is the latest of many adaptations of Scottish author John Buchan’s 1915 adventure novel. Most famously, the novel was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935, and then later, there were other films in 1959, 1978, and 2008. In 2013, the Scottish game developer The Story Mechanics also adapted the novel into a video game.

Here is a brief synopsis of the 1915 novel:

Richard Hannay gets thrown into an international drama. He receives a frantic visit from a stranger, an American named Franklin P. Scudder. Scudder tells him of a plot by the Germans to assassinate the Greek Premier, Constantine Karolides, during an upcoming visit to London. Scudder, who is a freelance spy, writes all the details of the plot in code in a black notebook. Scudder asks to hide in Richard’s apartment.

Four days later Richard has to run for his life. He returns home to find his apartment has been ransacked and Scudder’s body—he has been stabbed to death—planted there. Richard, who realizes he looks guilty, is forced to go on the lam to escape both the police and the people who killed Scudder. He also feels obliged to prevent the Greek Premier’s assassination.

The Netflix adaptation will be a modern update of the story with the events happening in our day, much like BBC’s Sherlock, which also starred Cumberbatch and made him a superstar. Understandably, some locations and names will also be changed to match current times.

Here is the official logline for Netflix’s The 39 Steps:

The 39 Steps is a provocative, action-packed conspiracy thriller series that updates the classic novel for our times. An ordinary man, Richard Hannay (Benedict Cumberbatch), 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.

Who is cast in The 39 Steps?

Benedict Cumberbatch 01

As of April 2021, only Benedict Cumberbatch has been announced as the lead of The 39 Steps. Cumberbatch will play Richard Hannay, a man involved in a vast conspiracy against his will. Here is a description of his character:

From the outside, Richard is a patriotic man putting the interests of his country ahead of his own safety. He is brave, daring, and calm under pressure. He is skilled at becoming another person by changing his accent or donning a disguise. His character is a combination of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.

How many episodes will be in The 39 Steps?

Deadline reports that Netflix’s The 39 Steps will have at least “six or more” one-hour episodes, though, for big-budget limited series such as this, we don’t expect the episode count to go higher than 8. That said, if the series is successful, we can expect renewal at Netflix for more seasons. The source material would also allow this since Benedict Cumberbatch’s Richard Hannay appears in four more novels after The 39 Steps.

What’s the production status of The 39 Steps?

Current production status: Pre-Production (Last updated: 15/11/2023)

According to Deadline, Netflix’s The 39 Steps production was expected to start in 2022 in Europe. For 2021, both lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch and director Edward Berger are busy. Cumberbatch was filming for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Berger will be in Europe for the better half of the year shooting All Quite on the Western Front with Daniel Bruhl.

The series reportedly entered pre-production in July 2021. Since then, we’ve got word that Chapter One Pictures are eying a May 2022 start date for filming in London.

As of November 2023, we’re still waiting for filming dates for The 39 Steps. Given the SAG-AFTRA strike between July and November 2023, any scheduled filming dates will likely be pushed back to 2024.

When will The 39 Steps be released on Netflix?

Without any film dates, it’s challenging to speculate a realistic release date for The 39 Steps. At the earliest, we aren’t expecting to see The 39 Steps until 2025.

Editors Note: This preview was first published in April 2021 and has been updated to reflect new information.

Are you looking forward to watching The 39 Steps on Netflix? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by

Tigran is our resident previews writer. He works on collecting everything known about upcoming Netflix Original projects and also is editor-in-chief of Redanian Intelligence. Resides in France.