Gilding the Prisoner's Cage
Michael Pickwoad, the production designer behind AMC’s highly stylized update of The Prisoner, takes The Daily Beast behind the scenes.
In the topsy-turvy world of The Prisoner, the inhabitants of The Village find themselves trapped in a Kafka-esque prison that strips away their individuality and assigns them numbers rather than names. On the surface, it’s an idyllic place, but beneath that pleasant façade, it’s a locus for a seething paranoia where everyone is watching each other.
Click Image to Compare the New Prisoner With the Original
In offering a reimagining of the British cult classic The Prisoner, production designer Michael Pickwoad (ITV’s Lost in Austen) had his work cut out for him. Although only 17 episodes, the original Prisoner remains, 40 years later, an enduring and enigmatic small-screen masterpiece of fear and suspense.
But while the production team sought to create a unique visual style that would allow this Prisoner to stand on its own, there are elements of that legacy that rather sneakily crept into AMC’s update. “The odd references are intended to sort of signify that there’s some connection,” said Pickwoad of some of the cheeky allusions to Patrick McGoohan’s 1960s Prisoner.
• Sir Ian McKellen, Jim Caviezel, and screenwriter Bill Gallagher discuss the Prisoner remake.AMC’s Prisoner, much of which was shot over 18 weeks on location in sweltering Swakopmund, Namibia, unfolds in two locations. “There’s the present-day New York and then there’s this other place, The Village,” Pickwoad said. “One made an attempt to have an unreal reality or a real unreality... One moment it’s very friendly and the next moment it’s very worrying. It’s a bit like a dream, something that seems very nice that suddenly puts you in a situation that’s very threatening. You have some knowledge of it but you can’t quite place it.”
Adding to that feeling of overwhelming unease are some of the production’s locations, including the vintage A-frame houses that comprise The Village itself, which weren’t constructed for The Prisoner but actually exist. They serve to underpin the surreal sensation of The Village and will, Pickwoad hopes, serve as iconic images for the reimagined Prisoner.
“Those pink, triangular houses are very much a symbol for strangeness,” said Pickwoad. “When I first saw them, I couldn’t quite believe that they existed. Until you realize that if you went to Northern Germany, you’d probably see a lot of them… Swakopmund itself… looked like something out of a color chart.”
Ultimately, the world of The Prisoner is a place where the past, present, and future manage to commingle, both within the confines of the narrative and in our own memories of the original series.
“Yes, that’s the fun of it and the challenge of it,” said Pickwoad, laughing. “I hope that people who watched the first one will want to tune in again.”
Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a Web site devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment Web sites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.