“A very old friend of mine said ’Go and see that film, it will change your life’. And I did – and it did.“

And now Mark Gatiss, of League of Gentlemen, Sherlock and Doctor Who fame, wants to introduce his favourite film, Federico Fellini’s 1957 neorealist masterpiece Nights of Cabiria, to a whole new audience, and is coming to the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley to do just that.

This film tells the story of a naive prostitute, played by Fellini’s wife Guilietta Massina, trying to find love in a seedy part of Rome.

“I saw it in 1998, it was reissued,“ says the 47-year-old Islington resident.

“Up until that point, if I’d been standing in front of a multiplex and they were showing the greatest foreign film ever made or Godzilla, I’d probably have gone to see Godzilla – and then regretted wasting my money.

“But Nights of Cabiria really opened my eyes. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful film and it’s never left me. After seeing it, I deliberately sought out the kind of films I’d read about but never really got around to seeing – Indian films, Truffaut’s films, stuff like that. You sound terribly pretentious saying it, but there’s a reason these films are on everyone’s Top Ten, they’re masterful.“

Mark was invited by the Phoenix to introduce the film as he has been a frequent visitor to the cinema with his fellow League of Gentlemen co-creators and stars Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, who live in East Finchley.

“It’s a wonderful place,“ he says, “I love going there, and to see Nights of Cabiria again on the big screen like this, and at this cinema, is a big treat.“

Mark is taking a well-earned break from his filming and writing schedule to present the late-night screening of the film.

He’s just finished filming the BBC One drama Mapp and Lucia, written by Steve Pemberton and starring Miranda Richardson and Anna Chancellor, and next week finishes work on the BBC Two adaptation of Wolf Hall, the bestseller by Hilary Mantel.

And after that?

“Well now I’m writing Sherlock,“ he laughs. “We’ll be filming a special in January and then doing three more episodes later in the year, so four this time. They’ll hopefully be on in 2016 – people always go ’I can’t wait!’, but it’s always two years between series. It’s increasingly difficult to get everyone together – that’s what happens when you’ve accidentally cast two superstars!“

And next month Mark is off to New York for the BBC America launch of the eighth series of Doctor Who.

“I’m enormously excited,“ says Mark, who has written episode three of the new series after having penned numerous episodes since the show’s revivial in 2005.

“Peter Capaldi is absolutely sensational as the Doctor, it’s very, very exciting.“

  • Mark Gatiss presents Nights of Cabiria (15) at the Phoenix Cinema, High Road, East Finchley, on Friday, August 1 at 11.45pm. Details: 020 8444 6789, phoenixcinema.co.uk