Skip to main content

It doesn’t matter which side runs the Village.


The Prisoner
2. The Chimes of Big Ben

We want information.

Number Six agrees to collaborate; if Number Two agrees to halt the interrogation of new arrival Number Eight. Six enters the Village Arts and Crafts Competition, but this is a cover for an escape bid he is planning with Eight. Six’s art cdoubles as a sailing boat, and he and Eight travel to London. Meeting with his bosses, Six is on the verge of discussing his resignation, but realises he is still in the Village when the chimes of Big Ben match the time on his watch; there should be an hour’s difference. It is revealed that Eight is working for the Village.

So how do you like it?

I’m prone to conflate The Chimes of Big Ben with Many Happy Returns, and neither quite work for me. At the root of this may be that Number Six actually escapes the Village in both (well, kind of in this one); battles of wits are reduced to more standard adventuring territory. The conflict becomes externalised.


It’s an episode that could be a typical example of what the series has to offer, if there were typical episodes. Number Six meets a new (female) villager, conspires with her, makes an escape attempt, fails, and it is revealed that she was on the side of the Village all along. What lifts it is Number Two, in the first of Leo McKern’s appearances; it’s little wonder McGoohan used him three times, as the two actors contrast with each other most effectively (even if McKern had a very difficult time of it with the star). In addition, the Village Arts and Crafts Competition provides for some amusing swipes at modern art and art criticism. Indeed, the actual “escape” only takes up the last fifteen minutes of the episode, and the twist is a neat one (albeit familiar to anyone who has seen The Ipcress File).


Chimes was the fifth episode produced, and many of the faithful suggest it should hold a similar position in any “proper” viewing schedule. The thought is that Number Six is clearly settled in at this point; he’s quite chatty with Number Two, and he takes on the mantle of tour guide for the newly arrived Number Eight (Nadia). I’m not sure I buy into the idea that such an attitude results from being worn down by previous failed bids for freedom. One could argue that Six, ever resourceful, tries a new tactic with his jailers after the failure of Arrival.


It isclear that time has passed since Arrival, but Six assuming Two’s role makes for an effective mirroring of the opener. His trust in Nadia certainly becomes less viable for me the further down the running order you put the episode. There is also an effective announcement of the hopelessness of his situation if his bids for freedom are undercut in such a pronounced way so early on. Won’t theyalways get the better of him?


The return of Christopher Benjamin (this time as Two’s direct assistant, it seems) also provides a direct bridge with Arrival and further suggests it is reasonably happy here. Additionally, showing McKern’s Two so early in the run makes his encore for the last two episodes all the more effective; there’s a symmetry to his bookending presence. Against this is an episode such as Checkmate, where Six enacts a more primitive escape bid.


I readily admit, however, that as far as The Prisoner goes I am a creature of habit. The broadcast order is what I’m used to and so it’s how I see the series as evolving, despite the inconsistencies this throws up (A. B. and C. and The Generalare much cited in this regard). I’m not dedicated enough to the idea that the series needs to show a clear progression (aside from its start and finish) to want to rearrange it accordingly.

Number Two: He can make even the act of putting on his dressing gown appear as a gesture of defiance.


McKern’s exhuberant Two is an infectiously likeable presence. Even though you know Six is deceiving him, or thinks he is. He is apparently unguarded and full of jollity, while Six is the opposite; reserved, curt and antagonistic.


Their first scene together shows that Six is only apparently compliant, as he takes pleasure in contrarily putting two lumps of sugar in his tea (instead of the predicted one); his rebellion against the apparently omniscient Village apparatus. Prior to this he shut the speaker playing the annoying Village muzak in his fridge to silence it; at this point he is showing not rage but efficient ways of counteracting predictable control mechanisms. 


When he chats to Two he informally sits on the latter’s desk, a test of how far he can challenge authority without a response. But he also nonchalantly instructs a delighted Two that he will “Escape, come back and wipe this place off the face of the Earth, obliterate it, and you with it”. He continues to ask the same questions, but in a more rhetorical way now; he’s no longer expecting an answer:

Six: Who are these people? Why are they here?
Two: Why are you?

Yet Two actually offers a politically challenging response to Six’s polarised mindset.


Two: It doesn’t matter which side runs the Village.
Six: It’s run by one side or the other.
Two: Oh, certainly. But both sides are becoming identical. What in fact has been created? An international community, a perfect blue print for world order. When the sides facing each other suddenly realise that they’re looking into a mirror, they’ll perceive that this is the pattern for the future.
Six: The whole Earth as the Village.
Two: Yes. That is my hope. What’s yours?
Six: I’d like to be the first man on the Moon.

This is a very similar view to the one expressed by Soviet spy Kropotkin in the 1967 satire The President’s Analyst:

Kropotkin: This isn't a case of a world struggle between two divergent ideologies, of different economic systems. Every day your country becomes more socialistic and mine becomes more capitalistic. Pretty soon we will meet in the middle and join hands.


If you remove the “illusory” notion of ideologically clashing power blocs, if all nations operate to the same template, what are you left with? The struggle of the individual for individuality, in a world village where everyone behaves in the same way, dresses the same way and conforms without challenge. Ultimately McGoohan pushes the series a stage further than this, whereby the one state is also insubstantial when set next to the shackles of one’s own mind and ego. But solid philosophical groundwork is laid here for later developments.


Six: I’ll make you a handle for this door.

I think part of my problem with this episode is that I’m reluctant to accept Six being swayed by trickery he should be expecting, and still more by a damsel in distress. As I say, I would have even more difficulty buying into this if it were later in the run. As the initial tour guide Six is cryptic and concise, but he is not overtly antagonistic (he offers her non-alcoholic whiskey or vodka).


We’re reminded of the more science fictional/surreal elements of the show in Nadia’s apprehension by Rovers and her subsequent interrogation, but such aspects are very much in retreat this time out (perhaps because the trick played on Six is so plausible, it was considered appropriate not to emphasise the heightened milieu. It’s her apparent suicide attempt that convinces Six she is genuinely a prisoner (“Let her go and I’ll collaborate”).


In a traditional series, Nadia would be the hero’s love interest but this is one of the instances where McGoohan reportedly nixed such notions (scripter Vincent Tilsely was critical of the star’s changes in this regard). There’s a scene of faked canoodling where McGoohan apparently had his daughter stand in for Nadia Gray, such were his scruples. But if he were that disapproving, wouldn’t he have restaged the scene entirely.

Six: Abstract art is basically primitive. I’ve… I’ve made my own tools.


We visit the woods set for the first time as Six shows he’s a bit of a D.I.Y. genius; not only can he fashion a boat, but he can manufacture the tools with which to hew it too! The sequences showing his preparations for the competition are sustained by Two’s surveillance and involvement. Tilsley and returning director Don Chaffey (his final contribution to the series) do a reasonably a reasonable job of making it seem as if Six is hoodwinking his slave masters, but that’s down to the engaging the satire of pretentious artistry. We don’t dwell too much on how Two seems all too encouraging of Six bending the rules for his entry and is apparently oblivious to the possible uses for his creation because the show distracts us (an earlier draft made Two’s awareness of what was going on clear).


Man: We’re not quite sure what it means.
Six: It means what it is.

The sight of every entry (except Six’s) paying tribute to the image of Number Two is most amusing, from a watercolour portrait, to a tapestry, to a chess set. But Six titling his entry “Escape” is a little on-the-nose if his intention is to fool Two (unless he considers drawing attention to such thoughts will put him off the scent; a double bluff). There’s a hint of a cute comparison of his art to organised religion (a church door) but, whether or not this was cut by McGoohan because of his sensibilities, I think Six’s nebulous non-explanation of what his piece means works best, along with his insincere gratitude for first prize (“Um, my work is its own satisfaction”).


Man: Why the crosspiece?
Six: Why not?

It’s lucky that Number 38 produced a piece that could provide a sail for his boat, and I’m afraid I don’t find Six’s lack of interrogation of Nadia or the ease of his escape route especially convincing. He never gets a clear confirmation of whom she works for, and the terribly convenient chap waiting for them at the shore should have rung alarm bells.


Six: I resigned… because… for a very long time I…

Six’s realisation that this is a ruse, before he has given the game away, is much needed (well, obviously, or the series would have blown its wad), but there’s a nagging sense that he should have sussed out that something was amiss before then. It’s only that this is so early in the broadcast run that lefts him off the hook.


Eight: Don’t worry. It was a good idea and you did your best. I’ll stress it in my report.

Eight’s parting comments emphasise that Two is just a cog in a wheel; she has the influence to bring about reprimands for him if it is considered appropriate. As an undercover operative she echoes Cobb in Arrival, while the lenient attitude to Two’s failure suggests the plans for breaking Six are still at a formative stage; later Two will come under greater pressure, with punitive measures threatened.


I like Chimes, but it doesn’t grab me the way the top tier of episodes do. McKern is its greatest asset, but Grey is saddled with a rather one-note character who only has an extra dimension in retrospect (even then, repeat viewings don’t really reward this knowledge). It’s neatly constructed and tidily resolved, but lacks that extra spark.









Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.