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Cicerones, The (2002)


Main image of Cicerones, The (2002)
35mm, 13 minutes, colour
DirectorJeremy Dyson
Production CompanySureshot Films;
 First Foot Films
ProducerJan Rolandus
ScreenplayJeremy Dyson
CinematographyJess Hall
MusicJoby Talbot

Cast: Mark Gatiss (John Trant); Jane Bertish (woman on train); David Ryall (figure in pulpit)

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An unwary traveller falls prey to supernatural forces in a Gothic cathedral.

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Based on a short story by Robert Aickman, The Cicerones is a supernatural tale of cultural tourism gone horribly wrong. Mark Gatiss, like the film's writer/director Jeremy Dyson a member of the team behind The League of Gentlemen (BBC, 1999-2002), plays John Trant, an English visitor to an unidentified central European country. In search of an obscure religious painting at the Cathedral of Saint Bavon, he finds the building about to close when he arrives but unwarily enters nonetheless.

The 'cicerones' (guides) of the title are four enigmatic male figures he meets inside, who lead him progressively deeper into the strange church. Trant is an innocent abroad, a bloodless intellectual for whom the cathedral's sacred art is merely a checklist of 'must sees' in a tourist guidebook. He shows irritation at continental opening times and ignorance of the language of the country he is visiting. It is the role of the cicerones to confuse, unnerve and eventually terrify him. This journey of a purportedly rational mind into a land of superstition that eventually disfigures it resembles Jonathan Harker's towards the Count's castle in Bram Stoker's Dracula. But it is to M.R. James's tales of bachelor antiquarians in search of knowledge that Aickman's story is most obviously indebted, and with its preference for mood and subtle effects over shocks, Dyson's film emulates the 1960s/70s cycle of James adaptations beginning with Whistle and I'll Come to You (BBC, tx. 7/5/1968).

Dyson's most notable deviation from Aickman's story is a new prologue, in which Trant, travelling alone on a rickety train, is confronted by a strange woman taking two young people to be married. As well as beginning the pattern of encounters with menacing foreigners, the scene establishes Trant's solitary and repressed existence. He is asked if he is married, and his hesitant reply - "I'm sure I shall be - one day" - is tinged with self-deceit. Later, deep inside the cathedral, the cocksure American man he encounters flirts with Trant in a way that further compromises his sense of identity.

For the Cathedral of St Bavon itself The Cicerones merges a number of British churches into an immense Gothic hybrid, with exteriors filmed at Lichfield Cathedral and interiors at St Albans and St Mary Magdalene, Paddington. The effective music, featuring organ and suggesting religious chants, is by Joby Talbot, who also provided the theme music to The League of Gentlemen.

James Donohue

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Video Clips
Complete film (12:41)
League of Gentlemen, The (1999-2002)
Short Films