TV EYE: The Prisoner (Redux)

There are few projects guaranteed to raise my hackles as much as a Prisoner remake. Just below Who, The Prisoner was one of the shows that defined my childhood and my teenage years, and which raised my general level of weirdness tolerances to all new levels. I’ve already talked here in the wake of Patrick McGoohan’s death about how much I loved the series – it’s a fascinating piece of television, flawed and creaky in parts and yet hugely ambitious and wildly experimental, both of its time and weirdly universal in a way that very few television programs have ever managed. There have been threatened movie versions – indeed, the movie rights are currently in the hands of Christopher Nolan, a filmmaker who (despite his occasional flaws and excesses) does have the chops to make something potentially good out of the idea – but before that, we’re getting a six-part TV miniseries that will (if memory serves me correctly) be screening here on Sky One sometime later this year. Filmed in South Africa and starring Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellan, it’s gradually going into publicity mode – there was a panel at Comic-Con, but – more interestingly – a 9 minute ‘highlights reel’ that gives some major indications (and at least a handful of spoilers) as to what we’ll be seeing:

My verdict? I’m not blown away, but I am intrigued. I already knew that they were avoiding a good proportion of the original series iconography, and I’ll be willing to bet that whatever ending they go for, it won’t be the whacked-out lunacy that featured in the original’s finale. Also, as an international co-production, a good deal of the quaint Englishness has been dropped for a more transatlantic flavour (It does sound utterly wrong for people in American accents to be saying “Be Seeing You!” (Or, as the actor in the reel says it, “Be Seeing Ya!”)), the ‘Number’ in everyone’s name has been dropped (The main character is now simply ‘Six’), and having been shot in South Africa, this is a very different visual proposition to Portmerion. There is, however, some enjoyably sinister stuff here – it does look like at least some of their attempts to capture the spirit of the original have been succesful, there’s a few trippy-looking corridor shots that could have come straight out of the 1967 series, and there’s at least a couple of shots that had my inner geek leaping with delight. There are some less effective moments here – the brief scenes that directly reference the original episodes actually come off the worst (especially the map scene in the Village shop, and the very unwise decision to have Caviezel saying “I am not a number, I am a free man” in a somewhat wet manner that gets nowhere near McGoohan’s iconic yell), the dialogue isn’t exactly amazing, and it does look possible that it could be way too serious for its own good (the best of the original show does have a very unsettling sense of anarchy and humour to it). Certainly, the one absolute winner it’s got on its side is Ian McKellan, who seems to be having a whale of a time, and is about the most ideal candidate for the role of Number Two (or ‘Two’, here) that I can think of. Whatever happens, he’s certainly going to be watchable – and I’m reserving judgement on Jim Caviezel until I’ve seen more of him. I’m not totally convinced by his performance in some of the clips here – but then, he’s going up against Patrick McGoohan’s absolutely bloody amazing intensity, which would leave most actors looking wishy-washy. Overall, I’m interested to see what they’ve done – like most remakes, I very much doubt this will top the 1967 show’s best moments, but from the looks of things it’s at least going to be worth watching, and doesn’t look like it’s going to completely dishonour the memory or repuation of the original.

Of course, after transmission I could be thinking something very different. Only time will tell…

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