The Prisoner (1955 film)

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The Prisoner
"The Prisoner" (1955).jpg
U.S. half sheet poster
Directed by Peter Glenville
Written by Bridget Boland
Starring Alec Guinness
Jack Hawkins
Music by Benjamin Frankel
Cinematography Reginald H. Wyer
Edited by Frederick Wilson
Facet Productions
London Independent Producers
Distributed by Columbia Pictures Corporation
Release date
  • 19 April 1955 (1955-04-19) (United Kingdom)
  • 11 October 1955 (1955-10-11) (United States)
Running time
91 minutes (U.S.)
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Prisoner is a 1955 drama film directed by Peter Glenville and based on the play by Bridget Boland. The film stars Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins.[1]


In an unnamed East European country that has recently come under Communist tyranny in place of Nazi tyranny, a Cardinal (Alec Guinness) is falsely accused of treason. The Interrogator (Jack Hawkins), an old friend of the Cardinal's but now a Communist, is given the task of persuading him to make a public confession of treason.

The Interrogator eventually breaks though by showing how the Cardinal became a priest to escape from his childhood. To purge his sin, in the show trial the Cardinal confesses to every lie of which he is accused, and is released to face a silent, bewildered crowd.

There is a subplot about a young warder (Ronald Lewis) who is in love with a married woman (Jeannette Sterke), who wants to leave the country and join her husband.[2]



The Cardinal was based on Croatian cardinal Aloysius Stepinac (1898–1960), who was a defendant in a show trial in Croatia (as a result of the similarities, the film couldn't be shown in Yugoslavia until the fall of the communist government)[3] and on Hungarian cardinal József Mindszenty (1892–1975), who was charged in Hungary. The film was shot in England and Belgium (at Ostend and Bruges).[2]


The film was controversial. It was seen as "pro-Communist" by some in Ireland; while in France, where the film was prohibited from being shown at Cannes, the film was labelled "anti-Communist." The Italians saw it as "anti-Catholic", and the film was similarly banned from the Venice Film Festival.[4]

The Radio Times, while praising the two main performances, wrote, "Peter Glenville's theatrical direction won't do much to persuade those without religious or political convictions to become involved".[5] TV Guide wrote, "basically a photographed stage play, and although there are a few other actors, Hawkins and Guinness are center stage most of the time--their mano a mano a delight to watch. Director Glenville had to use all of his expertise to keep the film from being little more than talking heads, but his touch is sure".[4]

The New York Times called The Prisoner a "grim and gripping drama—which also happens to be an equally revealing motion picture, one of the best of the year...a film that will make you shiver—and think."[6]


  1. ^ "The Prisoner". BFI. 
  2. ^ a b "The Prisoner". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 19 October 1955. p. 65. Retrieved 19 May 2012. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "The Prisoner". TV Guide. 
  5. ^ David Parkinson. "The Prisoner". Radio Times. 
  6. ^ "Movie Review – The Prisoner". NY Times. 

External links[edit]