If you asked me to name the actor or actress that fascinates me the most in TV and film history then I’d have to give two names – Anthony Perkins and Patrick McGoohan. Ever since I first saw Psycho I’ve watched many interviews with Perkins and always found him to be a truly intriguing character with a great sense of humour and enigmatic to the end. Thankfully there are a number of interviews with him over the years and while they never feel like he’s giving away too much, there’s just enough to whet your appetite. The same can hardly be said for McGoohan, a man shrouded in secrecy and mystery, mostly of his own doing of course. You could almost call him the human personification of The Prisoner, a man who raised many more questions than the answers he provided.
Arguably it’s that somewhat bizarre approach to life that has kept both McGoohan and The Prisoner in the public consciousness ever since the show debuted in 1967. To this day it remains up there alongside shows such as Lost and Twin Peaks in a league of their own, encouraging analysis and a desperate never ending search for answers that will likely never surface. The Prisoner became McGoohan’s baby over time and with that responsibility and control came a secrecy and lack of clarity that was not only reflected on screen but in his personality too. He wasn’t just playing a prisoner – he almost became one in his own mind. Did the show reflect his own views or did they simply become his? Who knows for sure.
It’s a testament to his work and dedication to the material that we see The Prisoner celebrating its 50th anniversary with Network releasing a fantastic DVD and Blu-ray package of the show. The highlight of this new offering is a feature length documentary In My Mind. The focal point is its star McGoohan in a rare insight into the show from his unusual and challenging perspective. This is filmmaker Chris Rodley’s journey early on in his career as he looks to crack a tough enigma that looks to confuse and titillate in equal measures. There’s no question that McGoohan enjoyed a game and in this documentary we see exactly how he manipulates and controls a crew so intrigued and captivated by his personality that they go along with his bizarre demands for reshoots and changes. They knew they were lucky enough to have an audience with the man and clearly were willing to play the game as much as reasonably possible.
It’s during this documentary that you start to realise just why Patrick was so perfectly cast as Number Six. The way he talks and thinks and presents himself here is in such a way that it’s hard to separate the actor from the character sometimes. But it raises the question of what’s real and what isn’t. Is this really Patrick McGoohan we’re seeing? Or did he allow all of this simply because he was going to hide behind a facade? It’s yet another level of manipulation to the story of The Prisoner only this time it’s real life. Despite the questionable source material there’s no doubt it’s a fascinating watch and you’ll hang on McGoohan’s every word because it’s such a rarity. For fans of The Prisoner this is an absolutely essential watch and something many have been waiting for for decades.
Is it perfect? No, but the series wasn’t either. There’s something quite apt about a documentary looking at The Prisoner being vague and ambiguous. When they go back and look at the anger at the ending you can only imagine what it must have been like to see that reaction at the time – although many of us lived through such frustrations with Lost in more recent times. But if you approach The Prisoner knowing what to expect then it’s a little less painful. All these years later we’re embracing the show for its quirkyness and willingness to approach challenging subject matter in an unusual manner. In many ways it was a show ahead of its time. Maybe the same can be said for Patrick McGoohan. Maybe the world just wasn’t ready yet.