After what feels like an age, I finally managed to get my hands on a copy of this inexpressibly rare piece of television at long, long last. Earlier this year, whilst I was off work with a shoulder injury, I find my self trawling the net mostly with an eye to finding anything to do with my favourite author the late Robert Aickman. As most fans will know IMDb only lists the three TV adaptations - The Bells of Hell (non-extant now sadly), The Swords and The Cicerones. But further investigation of the site revealed the title of a television piece called 'The Hospice' directed by one Dominique Othenin-Girard (director also of Halloween 5 and The Omen 4). Of course, with no summary or much beyond a smattering of the cast, it wasn't possible to ascertain if this was indeed an adaptation of the Aickman classic of the same name. But weeks of research elsewhere on the net led me to realise that not only was it such an adaptation but that it was one of four Aickmans adapted for the screen for a nigh-on forgotten anthology series called 'Night Voices'(the others being 'Hand in Glove, The Trains and The Inner Room). Probably its few screenings (one of them on the Carlton Select channel late on in the nineties) were of a graveyard variety which would explain their anonymity as would the generally unfavourable reviews the few people who have seen them have thus given them on various TV forums.
Yet having seen 'The Hospice' I must say that I really rather enjoyed it. True the music was sometimes a little inappropriate and had a slight tendency towards intrusion but other than that it was a more than respectable effort with decent acting throughout ( particularly Shepherd and Dobie) and a real faithfulness to the original story that made it work with a real amount of what I would call 'weird vigour'. All in all then a real find. Now if I can only find the other three........
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It was good to be able finally to watch this adaptation of a haunting short story, full of resonance. The adaptation was better than expected, as I was led to believe by the producer when I contacted him about the series some years ago that none of the "Night Voices" episodes was very good. Possibly he did not appreciate Aickman's teasing tone, which captivates and bewilders in equal measure? Bewilderment is probably its prime intention, in order to wake the unsuspecting audience - of whom Maybury can stand as representative - from his (or her - but females in Aickman's work tend to wake through different means) everyday stupor, the life of monotony and habit which dominates "Coulsdon Man" (as Aickman termed him in pages which were left unpublished from the second volume of his autobiography, THE RIVER RUNS UPHILL). And so Maybury, a middle-aged married man with one son and a Ford car, is bewildered when he encounters the hospice. What is it exactly that he encounters there? Death, perhaps? If so, not his. Not anyone's in particular (the "incident" that occurs during the night remains typically unexplained - part of the story's elliptical manner, possibly derived from dreams, with their characteristics of "condensation and displacement" - though apparently the story was inspired by the author's chancing across a hostelry in the Tunbridge Wells area while in the company of his two female friends, affectionately termed "the Mothers", who are the dedicatees of the story collection in which "The Hospice" first appeared). Death is certainly in the air - in the stuffy, overheated, hothouse atmosphere, where apparent decorum barely conceals dysfunction, desperation and panic. The denizens of the hospice are certainly not well. They are terrified of being alone (are they even chained together at dinner?), and terrified of what is outside. Which is the intimation of something unspeakable - to be avoided and denied at all costs (witness the bolting of the front doors after dinner!). Meal portions are outsize but they do not nourish. Energy - human and fossil - is being sapped by undefined terrors. There is a yearning for a more secure past (the nostalgic gaslight, the fine dress Cecile wears, the shared bedroom which seems to hark back to the heyday of the single-sex public school, the upright Falkner, who tries to hold everything together) - ultimately there is a yearning for the mother's womb, but the feral darkness outside cannot be ignored, despite the curtains without windows (Maybury brings in with him the bloody leg from the wild animal bite, we can hear the cries of the wild animals in the darkness, Cecile speaks hysterically of "all those people in the world without proper food....without love...without even proper clothes..."). Daylight brings apparent release - and Maybury suffers an apparent reprieve. All in all an admirable and faithful rendering of the author's distinctive vision of the world, with fine central performances and art direction, though I would have preferred to see the ending as written in the original story, in which Maybury is left suspended between two worlds ("One of the undertaker's men said that he should not have to wait long.").
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