The wedding of Baron Huon de Domville (Norman Eshley) and Lady Iveta de Massard (Tara Fitzgerald), due to take place at Shrewsbury Abbey, seems to be a very mismatched affair.
Huon de Domville is middle-aged and cruel (on the way through town he thinks nothing of whipping a number of lepers begging for alms) whilst Iveta is young, beautiful and loves another. Her heart belongs to Joscelyn (Jonathan Firth), who works for Hugh de Domville as one of his squires. But she is jealousy guarded by her aunt and uncle, Agnes and Godfrid Piccard (Susan Fleetwood and Jonathan Hyde), who take great pains to ensure she is never alone with him.
But the pair do manage to steal a few moments together (in the sanctuary of Cadfael’s hut). Cadfael discovers them, but characteristically doesn’t give them away, since he’s concerned that Iveta is being forced into the marriage against her will. Later, after Joscelyn is accused of theft, he’s dismissed from de Dornville’s service.
The next day, de Dornville doesn’t turn up for the wedding service and shortly afterwards it becomes clear why. He’s found in the woods – murdered. Joscelyn is the chief suspect, but there are others. And a mysterious leper called Lazarus seems to have a part to play in this tangled tale.
The Leper of St. Giles was the fifth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael and was originally published in 1981. There’s a familiar feeling to the story, not least because we once more see a pair of young lovers who find their union blocked for several reasons – mainly because the man is accused of murder. Coming back to these episodes after a few years it’s striking just how well cast they are. Jonathan Firth (younger brother of Colin) is dashing and energetic as Joscelyn. His tale of love certainly seems to strike a chord with Cadfael and though things look bleak for the young man, he’s lucky that the wily monk is on his side. Tara Fitzgerald gives a suitably delicate turn as Iveta, seemingly doomed to a very unsuitable marriage.
Norman Eshley (as de Domville) looked quite familiar (although most of his dialogue seemed to be dubbed – possibly because of poor recording conditions on location?) but it took me a few moments to twig that he had previously played Jeffrey in George and Mildred. I think it was his lack of hair that made the identification a little more difficult. Jamie Glover (the son of Julian Glover and Isla Blair) played another of de Domville’s squires – Simon. It’s quite a good performance, and Simon appears to be a loyal friend to Joscelyn, but things aren’t always as straightforward as they seem.
Indeed, later on we witness another side of Huon de Domville – thanks to the testimony of Avice of Thornbury (Sarah Badel). She was de Domville’s mistress for many years and paints an unexpected picture of him. There was no particular sense of love felt by Avice towards him (theirs was strictly a business relationship) but he was considerate towards her. After his death, she decided to become a nun – and her meeting with Cadfael is an interesting one. Both are similar in many ways – as they came to the cloister after an active life in the outside world.
After Joscelyn is accused of the murder, he becomes a fugitive and is hidden in the leper-house by Lazarus (John Bennett). In the book, Lazarus has formed a friendship with a young boy called Bran, and it’s Bran who acts as an intermediary between Iveta and Joscelyn. He makes a brief appearance in the teleplay, but his role is virtually excised.
Another death follows (that of Iveta’s uncle Godfrid Picard). Lazarus seems to be connected in some way and the story ends with a compelling meeting between Cadfael and Lazarus. John Bennett was a quality actor (the list of his numerous credits bears witness to this) and he’s very good in this scene. He was no stranger to acting in restricting make-up (for example as Li H’Sen Chang in the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang) and he has to do so again here. For most of the time he’s masked – though we do see his face briefly (this is done to demonstrate to Cadfael that he can never return to his family – he maintains that his distorted features would repulse them). With such restrictions, Bennett has to make the character come alive with little more than his voice – and this he manages to do. In the hands of a lesser actor we might have been invited to feel pity for Lazarus – but Bennett plays him with dignity. It’s only a small role, but in the context of the story it’s a telling one.
The Leper of St. Giles is a story that fits the 75 minute running time well, as it doesn’t feel particularly compressed. Strange dubbing is still a slight distraction though – my favourite is the character Jehan who speaks a line at 1:05:17 into the story. He was clearly a local non-English actor later dubbed in the UK – as his mouth opens and closes in a rough approximation of the words spoken, but it’s pretty rough. It’s just as well he only had the one line!