By Carole Tyrrell



The Cicerones was adapted from the Robert Aickman short story of the same name by Jeremy Dyson, of the League of Gentlemen, a self-confessed Aickman fan. Mark Gatiss plays John Tranter, a middle-aged bachelor, travelling through an unspecified Eastern European country, visiting out-of-the-way churches and cathedrals in order to view obscure works of art. He travels to the lonely and shunned Cathedral of St Gavon in which he meets four strange and unsettling young men. Unnerved by these encounters Tranter escapes to the crypt and meets the enigmatic and sinister Bishop.

Gatiss plays Tranter perfectly as a fussy, stuck-in-the-mud middle-aged man who would wear white cotton gloves in order to run his fingers over the maid's dusting. A chance meeting with a peasant woman with her heavily pregnant daughter and prospective son-in-law on a train results in Tranter being warned not to visit St Gavon. There's almost a thought bubble over his head at this, which says "Foreigners! Superstitious nonsense!" And, although there is a sign on the Cathedral door stating that it is closed for the day, an outraged Tranter enters anyway.

The Cicerones was shown with The Wicker Man on November 12, 2002, as part of the Greenwich Film Festival (London), and was followed by a short question and answer session with Jeremy Dyson. The audience seemed baffled by the film, which was billed as a ghost story. However, those of us who are Aickman fans relished its unsettling quality. But silence fell as, due to the audience's bewilderment, there weren't any questions. And so the MC started things off. Dyson revealed that he had an obsession with Aickman and had already adapted one of his short stories for radio ["Ringing the Changes"]. He'd also changed the ending of The Cicerones. Originally it ended with the line "And then they all started to sing", but instead he'd chosen to end it with the mysterious Bishop informing Tranter that "The Cathedral is closed now. Please follow me." I thought that this was equally unsettling. Dyson also chatted about the supposed location for the film being Ghent. There was a strong sense of Eastern Europe throughout so I was surprised to learn that it had all actually been filmed in the UK at such glamorous locations as St Albans, Lichfield, and St Mary Magdalene, Paddington, for the crypt scenes. All on a budget of 65k. One audience member asked how much darker the League of Gentlemen might become and Dyson muttered that they weren't looking for a niche audience.

I enjoyed the film immensely. Dyson managed to capture Aickman's sense of atmosphere and inscrutable storytelling completely. The locations and lighting helped enormously in this respect. I particularly liked Gatiss' performance and also the appearance of the Bishop, looking as though he celebrated a different, older religion than the one being supposedly celebrated in the Cathedral.


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2002-2006 Virtual Royston Vasey, except for bits belonging to The League of Gentlemen.