Chris Rodley first contacted Patrick McGoohan as a 13-year-old in February 1968 when he wrote to the actor asking what The Prisoner, recently concluded on ITV, had all been about. Like many others who’d done the same, he received back a printed signature on a postcard encouraging him to think for himself.
In 1983 Rodley, now a fledgling filmmaker did just that and made The Prisoner the subject of his first documentary. The result, Six into One: The Prisoner File, was welcomed by fans hungry for more information on the cult series and its legendary star that - white-shirted against a California sunset – had consented to be interviewed. What viewers didn’t realise at the time was the tortuous, sometimes hilarious struggle Rodley had endured making the film, up against both his legendarily recalcitrant boyhood hero and a hopelessly incompetent local crew. In exorcising a least some of the demons from that period, In My Mind is finally the film about Patrick McGoohan that Chris Rodley can be proud of.
Rodley is a wryly engaging narrator and expert storyteller - well aware what he is presenting here is equal parts tragedy and comedy. As technical issues mount up and the novice filmmaker finds himself too nervous to intervene, an unsettled McGoohan goes off-piste and starts calling the shots himself. Rodley’s dream descends into a nightmare; he’s in his very own episode of The Prisoner and No.6 himself is out to break him. Luckily for us, Rodley kept the camera running. What we witness is a great actor fearfully close to the edge, for whom the struggle is the spur, a prisoner of the incredibly high expectations he set for himself and wilfully tested upon others. Oh, and he’s funny, bloody funny.
In every sense, what took place over those few days of cat and mouse in Pacific Palisades was another performance from Patrick McGoohan; three performances, in fact. That first, ultimately abandoned interview where Rodley and crew get a white-knuckle introduction to Planet Patrick at his most tricksterish takes place in a large empty house; the second - the one with the white shirt - is a far more laid-back and benign hilltop encounter that seems calculated by the actor to be the mirror opposite of the first. Finally, and most, bizarrely, there’s the ‘LA Tape’, a video McGoohan sent to Rodley at the 11th hour in the hope it could be used in place of everything that had gone before. It’s a self-directed oddity, surreally blurring the line between McGoohan and his famous creation. Rodley quite rightly rejected it, but it makes for a fascinating coda to a bizarre series of encounters between the two men.
Rodley also spoke to many key Prisoner personnel in 1983 including writer-producer David Tomblin, art director Jack Shampan and writer Lewis Griefer and utilises candid unseen footage from these sessions to lend some much-needed, often darkly humorous, perspective on their former boss. The only new interviewee is McGoohan’s daughter Catherine, who chooses her words so carefully we end up learning more from her pained expressions and what she doesn’t say about her tortured father than what she does.
You should never meet your heroes, apparently. You’ll be glad Chris Rodley did. Neither a tribute nor a celebration, In My Mind is an often deeply moving act of reparation by a filmmaker who, for all the obstacles and madness McGoohan threw in his path all those years ago, always wanted to do right by him. Patrick McGoohan was at once funny, frightening and fascinating. So is this.
IN MY MIND / DIRECTOR: CHRIS RODLEY / STARRING: PATRICK MCGOOHAN, CHRIS RODLEY, CATHERINE MCGOOHAN / RELEASE DATE: 30TH OCTOBER SEPERATELY AND AS PART OF ‘THE PRISONER – 50TH ANNIVERSARY BOX SET’ FROM NETWORK DISTRIBUTING