If you visit Longleat and safely negotiate the lions and herpes-infested monkeys, you can enter the vast Elizabethan mansion and – via a circuitous route taking in such stately home essentials as the Saloon, the Red Library and the Dress Corridor – finally arrive at the Grand Staircase, at the top of which you will find the multiple eyes of this portrait staring at you.
Painted in 1567 by the suspicious-sounding Master of the Countess of Warwick, it depicts William Brooke, the 10th Baron Cobham, his second wife Frances Newton (standing) and their offspring. The lady sitting is Frances’ sister Johanna. She’s holding Henry. The other children are Maximilian, William, twins Frances and Elizabeth, and Margaret.
They all, you will note, have the same face. Ageless, like Midwich Cuckoos the children gaze at the nothingness beyond the limits of our perception. Margaret on the right is clearly the leader, her dark artistry fathomless, the evil palpable in her smirk – it is no coincidence that her pet, or dæmon, is a black cat.* The twins are soulless automatons, their actions controlled by infant hound-master Maximilian (left).
Their mother, Frances Newton, is an empty husk, all colour drained from her features. The Baron himself prays ceaselessly and furiously for redemption. Only Johanna, the aunt, knows the true nature of the Cuckoos; they revealed themselves to her one black night and now command her wholly.
*Or possibly marmoset, which is just as sinister if you ask me.