Director: Chris Rodley
Rover. Portmerion. Number 2. Unmutual. The Tally Ho.
If how these words connect is a puzzle to you then perhaps you’re not the target audience of this excellent documentary on 60’s mindfuck television masterwork, The Prisoner, but more pertinently the mighty drive and ambition of its star (and sometime, writer, director and producer) Patrick McGoohan. There are a couple of decent “making of” documentaries about the series which may give you more of an idea to the nuts n bolts of how it call came to be. However this is more an insight into the inception of the series and a tiny glimpse into “what it means” via rare interview footage with McGoohan.
In 1983, to coincide with Channel 4’s repeat showing of the series, Chris Rodley, was given the task of producing an introductory look at the show. As a devotee he went big and tried to get an interview with a man who believed the work should speak for itself and hated actors quacking on about their work. Via some suitably cagey and odd encounters he got the man to sit in front of a camera only for a day only for the subject to later track him down in the Mojave desert and offer to write a cheque to buy the interview footage so it would never been seen.
Chris refused by McGoohan offered to sit down again and perhaps be a bit more forthcoming about his ideas as well as giving Lord Lou Grade a nudge to grant Chris an interview. The latter footage was used in the finished film ‘The Prisoner File’ but the original interview has never been seen….until now. It’s fascinating stuff as you see Patrick dropping back into the No.6 persona with little phrases and the way he regards the camera – he is vulnerable and unsure whether he is doing the right thing but ends up taking over the filming from its unexperienced crew and director.
There is some great cine film footage capturing the filming on location if Portmerion which is intercut with the scenes from the show as well as archive from the 1983 interview sessions with producer David Tomblin, art director Jack Shampan as well as contemporary insight from Patrick’s daughter, Catherine on her father’s state of mind during the 1983 interviews as well as towards The Prisoner.
Rather than a dry, factual puffed up DVD extra this gives Patrick McGoohan and his achievement with the Prisoner the respect it deserves while still maintaining a mystery about both. There are spoilers a-plenty (including the BIG one) and McGoohan’s glee at the furore it caused is evident 17 years later. He said he was glad that the show made people think, that it produced a reaction in them either positive or negative which is more than most television aims or achieves to do.
When shown the finished ‘The Prisoner File’ in Paris, McGoohan hated it so much that according to Rodley ‘he spent the whole day yelling at us in cafes’. He’d probably hate this film too but fans of the man will find it fascinating.
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