After watching the Prisoner blu-ray box-set, and understandably in need of more Patrick McGoohan material, I finally watched this BBC recording (under the World Theatre banner) of the 59′ Theatre company’s staging of Henrik Ibsen’s Brand.
I fear that I picked the wrong day to watch it; I sense it is something best viewed on a long, cold winter night. Instead of that, I got around to watching it on a sunny spring Saturday afternoon around four o’clock.
Brand is an extraordinary figure: a firebrand priest, who holds a rigid faith in and understanding of God. He believes in God as a figure of fear and wrath who is to be respected and obeyed. Accordingly he wants to act with full responsibility for his actions and their consequences (and terrifyingly preaches this creed) . Stating “All or nothing”, he refuses to compromise, determined to offer direct salvation for the downtrodden populace of the cold, dark fjordlands, between them and God. They are both terrified and inspired by him; ultimately however they cannot follow him “up the mountain”. We have already seen his unrelenting austere morality destroy his family and his home life.
Hard, heavy, foreboding stuff, which Patrick McGoohan serves with a mesmerising, force-of-nature performance. It conveys the distraction caused by the character’s unique and unusual system of belief, and the stream of fire that is its expression. It is a performance for the theatre and not one that serves a black and white camera with 405 lines and 4:3 ratio. McGoohan goes into the red zone quite a lot, but when he hits a sweet spot with his burnished, glazed intensity it is fairly awesome. But watching it (and McGoohan as Brand is quite the dominating presence throughout the 90 minutes of the piece) through in the medium of early television is rather too intense for our comfort.
Whilst the other characters talk in RP, McGoohan expresses Brand in a raw, gutteral accent, somewhat nordic cum gaelic, that does embody the wrath of God. Looking ahead, key themes in the Prisoner are successors to those of Brand: the right to be able to make ones own path in life and be responsible for ones own decisions; to have the right to say “All or nothing” and not compromise; the pressure to conform within a society
Regarding the other performances, Dilys Hamlett is sweet then touchingly tragic in the important role of Agnes, the girl who sacrifices her life and happiness for Brand’s vision. The shade of McGoohan’s performance tends to shade over the more unobtrusive worldly characters, such as Patrick Wymark’s Mayor (a pity).
Peter Sallis playing both the Doctor and the Provost is interesting. He plays both figures with the engaging thoughtful wryness he’s excels at; which does succeed in bypassing the avalanche of Brand and provides a different point of view from the Pastor – as the Doctor, he is the voice of sanity; as the Provost the voice of worldly reason and power.
As for the play itself, it is such a torrent of doomy, godly horror, one can see how it could be thought unstageable. But it is intense, powerful and provoking as a study of humanity and our relationship with God, and our choices, our actions and our responsibility.