Other 1950's TV work by Patrick McGoohan that I have managed to watch has been consistently good. This BBC Play from 1958 also has an exceptional script, which has been fashioned from a cleverly imagined story-line.
McGoohan, as James Coogan, is an Irishman with a past. Billie Whitelaw, as Betty, is his underestimated wife, who knows nothing of her husband before seven years ago, when she first met him. The man who comes knocking at their front door one day is from his past. Betty, as a dutiful 1950's wife does not pry. The mysterious man explains to McCoogan that he is in fact a special policeman, come to both warn, and offer protection to the ex-IRA man.
McCoogan had been involved in the treachery and death of a famed Freedom Fighter, Seamus O'Connor, seven years before. He had since escaped the life of violence and deceit and settled in London.... lost in the crowds. He is at first dismissive of the offers of protection, claiming it was all so long ago, and he does not want his new wife and friends to know of his past.
Strange things start to happen that inevitably suck his wife into the past. The milkman advises her that her husband has reduced the daily milk delivery as they will not need so much milk after that day. The newsagent tells her that her husband has cancelled his Architects periodical. Alarmed at his behaviour she telephones him. Coogan realises that the policemen were right, someone is after him and they evidently are making him spend this day in fear. He placates his wife and is startled by the coincidence that the policeman phones him again. This time he accepts the help offered.
The playwrights, Hulke and Paice, construct a bobbing and weaving tale as the play progresses. A priest becomes involved as a family friend. Betty is not as dumb as James believes her to be and as the climactic moments approach she pleads with her husband to explain the present by explaining the past. In a cleverly twisting conclusion, the policemen expose themselves as an IRA hit squad. McCoogan has been fooled. He is to be executed as a traitor to the great orator and leader that was Seamus O'Connor.
McCoogan's refusal to plead for mercy baffles the priest, who is more concerned that the Irishman is truly penitent for his violent past than the rights and wrongs of the Politics. As he becomes certain that Coogan is sincere, he can hold his tongue no longer. He knew Coogan before, he knew him when he was Seamus O'Connor! The IRA soldiers are divided.Their cynical Captain is still determined to make the execution, regardless. He thinks the important thing is what the world thinks is true...... not what is really true. Overpowered by his comrades, the assassins withdraw.
The play ends abruptly, leaving us, the audience, as thoughtful as the priest who is staring at Coogan being embraced by his wife..... and his past.
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