The Prisoner was a popular television series back in 1968. It kept the pubs empty until after 9 pm when that evening’s episode had come to another unsatisfactory end – which is what we viewers wanted, even if we didn’t realise it.
The story concerned a recently-resigned British spy who, because of his knowledge, was kidnapped and made to live in a beautiful Italianate village where, presumably, the authorities (whoever they were) either attempted to get the information out of him or wanted to see if he could be broken. His identity was gone; he was now just Number 6. No one in their right minds would want to leave there, so you’d think, but all these years later I can see strong similarities between me and Number 6 and now I understand just why he had to attempt escape, week after week after week.
No one knew who ran the Village. In fact I doubt if Patrick McGoohan, who conceived the series, even knew who the baddies were. The popularity and cult status (even before the term was coined) took both him and the programme makers completely by surprise and he was forced to write beyond the few episodes that he originally conceived.
This morning I watched the first episode of the remake of The Prisoner Now, remakes are not the best idea and the bank statements of US film-investors are littered with horror stories of good British stuff that has been remade and blitzed in the US – The Avengers, The Italian Job, Get Carter... However, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt whilst doing this writing course, it is never to preconceive; give everything a chance. So I sat down with an open mind, willing to take this part-US production on its own merits. I wasn’t expecting a miracle, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, it was good.
There are plenty of subtle references and homages to the original, which is a nice touch. The Village itself ain’t so good, being set in what looks like an African desert, but the baddies are more ruthless than the originals and will go to any lengths to contain the villagers. The concept of killing someone nicely (?) has gone out with the British upper-class accent.
Perhaps the good quality is down to ITV’s involvement and, as already mentioned, its willingness to show respect for the original that has made the company a mint over the years and whose DVDs are selling so well they have recently been released in Blu-Ray.
Now, that’s the best sign of a winning concept.