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Black Narcissus  [DVD] 
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A classic Powell/Pressburger tale of sexual awakening based on the Rumer Godden novel. A group of British nuns are sent into the Himalayas to set up a mission in what was once the harem's quarters of an ancient palace. The clear mountain air, the unfamiliar culture and the unbridled sensuality of a young prince (Sabu) and his beggar-girl lover (Jean Simmons) begin to play havoc with the nuns' long-suppressed emotions. Whilst the young Mother Superior, Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), fights a losing battle for order, the jaunty David Farrar falls in love with her, sparking uncontrollable jealousy in another nun, Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron).
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Black Narcissus' story centres on a group of Anglican nuns, led by Sister Superior Clodagh (superbly played by Deborah Kerr), who are sent to a remote part of the Himalayas to establish a school and hospital for the benefit of the local population. Their objectives are undermined by a combination of factors, including the reluctance of the local British agent Mr Dean (David Farrar) to support them and the increasingly eccentric behaviour from the mentally unstable Sister Ruth (played by Kathleen Byron, in a film-stealing performance).
Black Narcissus was way ahead of its time in many elements. The most notable is undoubtedly the way in which the film creates a brooding, and increasing, atmosphere of sexual tension between the three main characters, Sisters Clodagh and Ruth and Mr Dean, as the latter parades through the nuns' living quarters (ironically a converted harem!) in shorts and bare, hairy legs. Visually, the film is also uniquely stunning.Read more ›
On the surface another British melodrama, this was made into much more, using the relatively new and cumbersome Technicolor process for heretofore unimagined uses. While America was using colour as a way of making musicals and location work bigger and more exciting, Powell and Pressburger were finding ways of using it as a way of expressing the internal - emotions as colour.
In this movie, we have Deborah Kerr as a nun who has been sent as Mother Superior to a palace (and former harem) in India in the shadow of the Himalayas to make of it a school and dispensary. However the location and its otherworldliness begin to gnaw at the nuns in different ways, digging up old forgotten memories of their previous lives, and forcing one all the way to madness. The presence of the Englishman who is their only source of help, only adds to a simmering atmosphere of repressed emotion which threatens to burst out as time progresses.
As a melodrama this might seem a little dated by modern viewers eyes, however as an expression of the dichotomy between our human nature and the nature of religion (in this case Christianity) this is a fascinating and timeless piece - and as a piece of cinema, this will stay with you for a very long time, with its stunning expressionist style and startling colours. One moment, when a nun driven mad appears in a doorway with murderous thoughts in mind, is more chilling than anything I have seen in a long time, all captured in one look through fantastic lighting.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great film, you always need to have classics at hand, which is why I bought it.Published 27 days ago by marcus gardner
In my review of the book, I mentioned three things that really stood out for me – the depth of the characterisation, the wonderfully atmospheric sense of place and the slow build... Read morePublished 6 months ago by FictionFan
I give ot four stars just because I bought the blu ray afterwards and then I got all the magnificence of its visuality snd true cinematic art. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Elleppi
I saw this film at the cinema, and I really enjoyed it. When I saw that it was on a dvd - that was on my wish list, but I did not wait that long before I bought it.Published 18 months ago by mignon