TV Review: The Prisoner (1967)

 

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The Prisoner- Review by April Furst

While waiting for the next Sci-fi show to hit the small screens; instead of looking forward, maybe we should look back for some rather overlooked hidden gems.

The Prisoner is the brainchild of actor Patrick McGoohan. He produced, directed, stared and even wrote some episodes under the pen names of Joseph Serf and Paddy Fitz.

The entire series is shot on location at Portmerion. Portmerion is nestled away on the Snowdonia coast of Wales. It is a folly town created by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and is a mixture of various styles and bizarre creations.

“The Village” or Portmerion, is a character in its own right. It makes up the surreal qualities that the village holds and without it, there would not be a show. The absence of Portmerrion is probably why all reboots or potential resurrections just don’t work.

The series originated in 1967 during the height of the cold war, but this forty-seven year old television show stands the test of time. I can agree there are some dated things about the show; some of the props are straight out of the summer of love and the technology is huge compared to our modern counterparts. It really must have been something watching this show for the first time and seeing some of the things we take for granted today: automatic doors, GPS, mobile phones and CCTV.

The fundamental themes of The Prisoner are timeless and probably more closer to the truth than it was forty-seven years ago. The show opens with a nameless Patrick McGoohan resigning from his job in a highly stylized Technicolor montage. Who he was, was is never said, but rather alluded to. We can assume he was a spy or some sort of government spook who knew too much and when he tried to get out- he is abducted to “The Village”.

The Prisoner is Orwellian in nature. The sheer fact that McGoohan and everyone else in the village has no name but an assigned number, say it all. Number 6’s demoralization and dehumanization are aptly stated in his famous speech from Episode One: The Arrival:

imagesCAW0ZGS2 “Number Six: I am not a number! I am a free man!..I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!”

The mysterious Number One, erstwhile leader of “The Village” is an on going mystery which I won’t mention any further for fear of spoiler, but Number Two is the mouth-piece and is constantly changing from one person to the other. It is just another ploy to add to the confusion of who is really in charge.

Number 6 constantly bucks the system, he plots to escape and see who is behind it all; but he is always thwarted. The combination of the bizarre folly that is Portmerrion and the constant propaganda often adds to the surreal quality and gives each episode a vibrant dream quality.

Why should you watch this show forty-seven years later? The Prisoner is applicable today because there so much governmental misinformation and sleight of hand that along with Number 6, we have no idea about what is truly going on anymore. All we know is that we must conform, tow the line and not ask too many questions.

The Prisoner is an allegory for personal freedom, or lack thereof. Most of our lives are documented on social media and we willingly supply the information ourselves for the sake of fun. If someone offends us or says something threatening, we are very eager to push the report button. Who sees it? Many of us are under the false illusion that no one is looking and we give it a cute name like “cookies” just to make it harmless, but if an advertiser can scan your emails and see what sites you visit all to sell us the latest soft drink- you can bet that someone else is looking.

You only have to look at the reports of arrests from people inciting riots or acts of terrorism on Twitter http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/18/tech/social-media/newtown-social-media-crime/ to see that quite clearly what you do and say is being noticed. While many people accept the prolific CCTV surveillance and personal invasion under the guise of crime prevention and anti-terror, it all offers a false sense of security, and we unwittingly give over full disclosure into our lives.

Despite being a brilliant show with many subtle nuances that make your imagination go wild- it is also visually stunning. The quality that has gone into this show, from the location to the highly stylized background elements, is just a drop in the ocean compared to McGoohan’s acting. He can say more with one sideways glance than most actors could say in a whole speech, because his paranoia was real. Another poignant piece of dialogue from Episode One which summarizes the series perfectly is:

The Admiral: A game of chess, my dear.

The Woman: I don’t play.

The Admiral: You should learn. We’re all pawns, my dear.”

BBC 4 is showing The Prisoner in its entirety this summer as part of the”Sights and Sounds of the 60’s” feature and should be watched because it touches on the themes of what makes us individuals and what it means to be truly free.


 

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