TV Review: The Prisoner (2007)

“6 knows that 6 is 6”

I’ve never seen the original series of The Prisoner from the 1960s so I was able to approach the 2009 remake with a fresh mind and take in another of Ruth Wilson’s earlier televisual appearances. A co-production between ITV and US cable network AMC, it was filmed in the Namibian desert and featured the likes of Ian McKellen and Jim Caviezel in its cast as a man who wakes up in a strange isolated village with people calling him 6, and no idea of how or why he got there or how he can escape. It’s something of a curious beast. Caviezel’s 6 is the leading man of this show yet it is not always immediately apparent why we should really care about his fate. Somewhere between Caviezel’s handsome but anodyne looks and Bill Gallagher’s simplistic script, the driving thrust of the show just isn’t there.

There are aspects to enjoy though. Wilson gets some brilliantly emotive scenes as 313, the doctor who finds herself at the forefront of event as she is caught up in 6’s battle against the Village, and there’s some amazing work from her in the final episode, and Ian McKellen really is excellent as the Machiavellian 2, the sinister puppeteer who controls so much of what is going on, even as it seems that things are slipping from his grasp. Good support comes too from a range of strong actors in minor parts like Hayley Atwell, Lennie James and Rachael Blake.

But there’s too much blankness from the other men. Jamie Campbell Bower’s 11-12, the son of 2, is pretty but vacant as a young man struggling to embrace his homosexuality in the face of strident heteronormality from his father who wants to pass on his legacy down the family line. And Jim Caviezel is similarly blank, his handsome face permanently screwed with confusion as his default mode and he rarely breaks from it, making him a rather unsympathetic protagonist. And that meant that the whole story was never quite as gripping as it could have been, the dilemmas that drive the narrative not always as compelling as we go through the six episodes. 

The mystery that underpins the entire enterprise is quite fascinatingly unwound though in the hunt for answers but the overall impact felt somewhat insubstantial in the end (perhaps a second series might have fleshed things out a bit more?), the deeper concepts left underexplored in the name of accessibility. And so altogether, it wasn’t that satisfactory and I found myself quite bored as I was watching it.

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