The Prisoner Review: Village People

April 16, 2010 by  
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THE PRISONER: Saturday 17th April, ITV1, 9.30pm ALERT ME

If you’ve seen the original of The Prisoner and became as enamoured with it as I did, you’ll find your mind whispering incessantly throughout this opinion splitting remake. “Patrick McGoohan wouldn’t have done that?. “America ruins EVERYTHING?. However, to appreciate this mini-series, you must attempt to detach yourself from any previous experience of The Prisoner you may have had. And if you haven’t seen the original, well – you’re in a position of ignorant privilege.

The 60s version was a tense, multi-layered thriller which, as well as highlighting political issues such as social indoctrination and collectivism, was ferociously iconic. This first episode of the 2009 edition shows that these political issues are still prevalent and the idea behind The Prisoner can be just as thrilling.

An unknown man has awoken in the midst of a desert. He is confused, and watches as an old man nearby is chased and killed. “Let them know I got out”, he says before passing. And so the plot for the series is sown. Jim Caviezel (one time Jesus Christ) plays the confused but stubborn No. 6 – mysteriously maintained within ‘The Village’ against his will, watched closely by the excellently played No. 2 (Sir Ian McKellan).

As a person intrinsically disdainful of change, the mix of identical parallels to the original and Americanised plot and characters did inevitably distract me. The inclusion of explosions and attractive women just isn’t ‘The Prisoner’. But – it’s not supposed to be an accurate remake, and if anything, it’s a re-imagining. Ignoring these unfair comparisons, and you realise AMC/ITV have achieved a compelling balance and atmosphere within the cast and the situation faced by No. 6. The magnetic appeal of Patrick McGoohan in the original is not matched by the Hollywood sanitised Caviezel, but throughout this first episode I was sufficiently concerned with his fate, and the action held my attention throughout.

Only 50 minutes old and this series impresses strong political and social ideas upon the viewer. Small disasters are used to stem radical thinking amongst the villagers, for example, and No. 2 speaks via perfected propaganda. Deaths are covered up like a Stalinist leadership. This layer of political allegory enhances the viewing experience.

I was fully expecting to be angry and disappointed, but I sincerely enjoyed The Prisoner (2009). Yes it’s sometimes unsubtle, and indeed I cringed at some of the lines, but touches like the inclusion of weather balloon guard Rover, the fast-paced action, and stellar performances from the likes of McKellan, meant I was completely satisfied with the results, and I’ll certainly be returning for more.

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Vita Searle says:

Sadly, as expected it was turned into corporate American TV, loosing all the charm & quirkiness Britain does so well. It took it’s self way to serious, we don’t. The characters seem empty, so I could not warm to any of them. Yes I agree with Moor Larkin, the start was badly thought out, with the dogs just disappearing, no way would they loose the scent. They pepped up the violence level, to cater for a younger audience I suppose, but people of all ages can manage to enjoy a programme without it, if the script and acting is good.

John Sullivan says:

I tried to watch this and judge it on its own merits but that became impossible and where this version fell down I was reminded of the strengths of the original.

For a start, Patrick McGooghan’s number six had a barely suppressed (and often let loose) rage – he was livid that he had been kidnapped and was being held against his will. In the modern version though number six seems mildly irritated by comparison. Then there’s the eye candy/potential love interest. In the 60s version, McGooghan showed no interest in women – his only concern was to find out who number one was, escaping and bringing the Village down. There was even a hint that he may be gay – when they tried to soften him up with a French maid he said “that’s something else they got wrong” and threw her out. In the modern version we have the cliched spectacle of number six lying on the grass with an attractive woman and looking up at the stars. Do me a favour!

I’ll stick with it and see if it can develop its own identity, but they have chosen to make a modern version of The Prisoner here, so I think its fair game for comparison. If you’ve never seen that I suspect it will prove a more enjoyable watch than if you have.

Sorry to ramble on.

Jon Greatorex says:

McGoohan probably rolled more than a few times, last night.
Who could blame him? The ‘mystery’ of the original series was in the covert nature of the action – an audience wasn’t spoon fed the narrative.
The laboured ‘where am I?’ of yesterday evening became increasingly irritating.
It will be interesting to see whether McGoohan’s original M.O. is adhered to, (although I doubt it)
Each episode of that ground-breaking work of genius had it’s root in some village/social malaise or village/social commentary; be it education, indoctrination, politics, individualism, rebellian et al.
I would love the American butchers to include some semblance of this, as it was the core to the original.
Methinks we are going to have an over-burdoned treatise on No. 6’s escape, while pandering to the ‘love interest’
I did not detect a single degree of McGoohan’s sardonic, assured wit, either, last night – you know, those James Bond throwaway lines.
Oh bugger! I’m going to be let down, aren’t I?
Be seeing…

Moor Larkin says:

There was a clear suggestion to me that the original script and intention was to remake the old show with a new protagonist. The whole farrago at the start with a blazered 93 and the evocation in the briefest of succeeding scenes, of a new village made that very clear. Much of the Namibian location footage is re-making a progression of the original, where 93 has given the new Six a way in to locate and explore the falsity of the place he has ended up in. However, intercut with those and ending up predominating was a series of other ideas – none of which bore any relation to anything much. They were just *mysterious*, but without any sense of enigma – a series of wtf moments.

Perhaps the most stupid sequence was when Six stole a taxi and drove off – finally being enveloped by a giant bubble. Then… we just cut to him being in the back of the love interests car, babbling about his old girlfriend in NYC or something and the love interest making moue expressions. Nobody mentions the wtf bubble…….. The show is a complete and utter mess, but I cannot wait for next week either. Maybe the Big Ben/Statue of Liberty/Twin Towers schtick will lead to something that might actually have soemthing to say about something, rather than just dancing round a remake trying to avoid being a remake….

The start was just stupid too. 93 is being hunted by men with dogs? Where was the bubble? Having a day off?