'The Prisoner' put Wales on the map during the Sixties, but will the film remake return there? By Victoria McKee

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The Independent Culture
When First Knight, the Arthurian romance starring Richard Gere, Julia Ormond and Sean Connery, premieres in the small North Wales town of Porthmadog on Monday before opening nationwide at the end of the week, it will be only one of a small wave of new films shot in Wales. In the next few months we shall be seeing August, a Welsh version of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya directed by and starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Restoration, a period comedy with Robert Downey Jr and Meg Ryan, and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain with (the now-notorious) Hugh Grant.

Cinema is contributing more and more to the prosperity of a region whose slate quarries and coal mines can no longer support its population. Total film-related revenues for Wales in the last year came to over pounds 4m, says Robin Hughes of Screen Wales. Indeed, soon there could be little business but showbusiness in the area, some fear.

So a lot of people are observing with keen interest the current plan to make a film version of the cult Sixties television series The Prisoner, which was set, as all fans know, in the North Wales village of Portmeirion. It has not yet been established whether Portmeirion will also be used as the film's location. Max Hora, a coordinator of the 'Six of One' Prisoner Appreciation Society, who has run a shop called "The Prisoner" there for 13 years, wishes people would stop asking him about it, and thinks the whole thing is "pie in the sky". But Edwin Jones, media development officer for the local council, confirms, "I met with Michael Kuhn, head of PolyGram Films [which owns the remake rights] in Los Angeles earlier this year and he was confident it was going to happen."

Portmeirion, run today by its founder Sir Clough Williams-Ellis's grandson Robin Llywelyn, is keen for the business - and the attendant kudos - as long as it doesn't interrupt its already successful resort and conference season. PolyGram would have to film from October to April, when days are shorter and the notoriously wet and grey Welsh weather is likely to be at its wettest and greyest. "Portmeirion was less popular when The Prisoner television programme was shot," Edwin Jones notes. "They also got to use the location for nothing, then. Robin's grandfather said, 'As long as you keep out of my way, just get on with it.' I'm sure he didn't realise how big it would become." At least half of the 250-300,000 visitors who come each year are there because of The Prisoner connection, Hora estimates.

Wales still has a long way to go before it can compete with Ireland as a film location, since the Emerald Isle benefits both from tax incentives and an international perception of greater glamour and charm. Frankly, most film stars would rather head for Dublin than Bangor or Cardiff.

But neither Scotland nor Ireland could have provided the dark satanic slate mountains, the cave where the demonic Malagant has his lair, nor so many different types of coastal, mountain and eerie estuarial landscapes in such close proximity to each other and to London. Nor, perhaps, are they quite as hungry for the work as the Welsh, who have seen so many of their traditional industries eroded: 3,000 hopefuls turned up for the chance of becoming extras at pounds 40 a day - less than half the going London rate.

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