This remake of classic series, The Prisoner looks unpromising to a fan of the original. Yet perhaps there was never a great show that more needed to be remade. Its themes are certainly as relevant as in 1967. In those far-off days, despite the horrors of Soviet Russia, Red China and Fidel's Cuba many still saw collectivism as a gentle dream.
“The original Prisoner was very much dealing with the life of the individual as he might get caught up in Soviet Russia… Well, here we are 40 years on and we are living in a land where people accept without question being fingerprinted, having their eyes registered at airports, taking off their clothes at the airport, opening up their luggage, not being allowed to do this, not being allowed to do that, photographed in the streets by cameras that are put up by you’re never quite sure who. All this adds up to a society that perhaps isn’t quite as democratic and careful about the freedom of the individual as we would like.”
Perhaps the delicately understated final sentence is not quite so bloggerish! One cannot imagine Devil's Kitchen, for example, languidly observing that our society;
"...isn't quite as ... careful about the freedom for the individual as we would like".
I imagine McKellen had fun with the role of "Two", but I cannot picture Jim Caviezel in the McGoohan role as [Number] Six. From the trailer and advance publicity, I fear it may finally deliver on McGoohan's dishonest promise to his backers that it would be an action series. For all its failings, the original series was a thought-provoking, intelligent work. It would therefore never have made it to the small screen without McGoohan's deception. It was his project; he was co-creator, star and wrote some of it himself. We owe him for that; it's hard to imagine a remake that won't make our authoritarian leaders uncomfortable and their sycophants furious.
A genuine individualist himself, McGoohan navigated bizarre story lines carefully, somehow retaining sympathy for a character far from being loveable. Ultimately, Number Six was not even entitled to say; "I am not paranoid. They really are out to get me." The series ended in a full-on 1960s schlock episode in which Number Six is revealed also to be the mysterious, never seen but much talked-about, Number One. Symbolically, he was his own jailer and "I am out to get myself" is not quite such a good punchline. I suppose McGoohan was hinting that no man can truly be unfree without consent. It was a call to arms, perhaps, but hardly rousing.
I loved the original series, though I was a teenage collectivist when I first saw it. My strict, always-in-the-wrong, upbringing felt like life in "The Village" to me and I thought the village itself a perfect metaphor. My mental image of tyranny is a village, like the one I grew up in, where everyone knows you, there is no privacy and your every move is likely to be reported to "the authorities" (or in my case at the time, my parents). I felt cheated by the finale though. Like much 1960s culture, you needed to be on acid to appreciate the logic; which is another way to say that it had none.
The Prisoner was great television, but hugely flawed. Stylistically, it was too much of its ludicrous era. Everything good from the 60s needs to be remade, so for once the producers can do better than avoid adverse comparisons. They have something to shoot for.