The Prisoner: “The Chimes of Big Ben” and “The Girl Who Was Death”

Movie Information

Two episodes of The Prisoner, part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Genre: Allegorical Science Fiction
Director: Don Chaffey, David Tomblin
Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Leo McKern, Nadia Grey, Kenneth Griffith, Justine Lord
Rated: NR

Week two of World Cinema’s look at the groundbreaking British TV series The Prisoner offers two distinctly different episodes. The first of these, “The Chimes of Big Ben,” originally ran as episode two when the series aired in the U.S. in 1968. It’s now generally considered to be episode five, but I really don’t think it matters that much. It’s a notable entry for several reasons, not the least of which is that it introduces the series’ quintessential Number Two with Leo McKern, who will return in the same capacity for the last two episodes. While there are several very fine Number Twos, the rapport and chemistry between McKern and Patrick McGoohan was unique with McKern’s larger-than-life acting offering a sharp contrast to McGoohan’s quiet intensity. The episode is also of interest as the closest Number Six ever gets to having a romantic interest (Nadia Grey). Plus, it’s simply a well-written, well-structured addition to the series.

“The Girl Who Was Death” is the most playful—and seemingly unrelated—episode of the entire series. It’s presented as a kind of shaggy spy story taking place out in the real world and not within the confines of the Village. McGoohan is here a secret agent of some sort—complete with all 1960s accouterments—who picks up the trail of a woman (Justine Lord) who calls herself Death. A wild—often very funny—game of cat and mouse follows as our hero gets closer to her father, “crazy scientist” Professor Schnipps (Kenneth Griffith, who returns in a different capacity for the last episode). Schnipps suffers from a Napoleon complex (“I say, you’re not the Duke of Wellington, are you?”) and is planning on firing a rocket into the center of London. Not until the very end is it clear what this is all about or how it ties into the series—at which time you realize you were played with fairly all the time. As a side note, Alexis Kanner—who has significant parts in other episodes, “Living in Harmony” and “Fall Out”—makes a guest appearance as a photographer who makes an extremely colorful threat to McGoohan during the fun-fair sequence. To read more about The Prisoner, check out last Friday’s Screening Room at

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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