Black Narcissus

When Rumer Godden’s 1939 novel Black Narcissus was filmed in 1947 it featured Deborah Kerr and Jean Simmons.

Now it is a 3 part UK miniseries starring Gemma Arterton (Call the Midwife), Alessandro Nivola (Face/Off, Disobedience), with Diana Rigg (Game of Thrones, The Avengers) and Jim Broadbent (Iris, Moulin Rouge).

Arterton stars as Sister Clodagh, an Anglican nun sent by her Rev. Mother (Rigg) from Darjeeling, India, to run a mission at the remote Palace of Mopu in the Himalayas in 1934. But while Sister Clodagh may be the youngest mother superior in her order, she is infinitely determined -a well of strength and faith she will need to draw upon.

The Palace is crumbling but dramatically perched on the edge of a cliff high in the Nepalese mountains. Its only resident, housekeeper Angu Ayah (Nila Aalia) also knows its secrets, teased in the opening prologue with the death of Princess Srimati in 1914. Like a good ‘ol mystery plot, even the former monks only lasted 5 months.

Joining Sister Clodagh are 5 other nuns including short-tempered Sister Ruth (Aisling Franciosi) and gardener Sister Philippa (Karen Bryson), both of whom will not see eye to eye with Sister Clodagh’s doctrine. But more tests will come via local Mr. Dean (Alessandro Nivola), who has little time for her schooling, but plenty of time to challenge her. These appear to stir deep-seated steamy memories within Sirter Clodagh of her romantic youth before taking her vows….

Throughout it all the windy shutters of the Palace blown open, slam shut, creak and go bump in the night. Looming above it all are vistas (possibly with a bit of CGI embellishment) of snow-capped mountains which add to the foreground drama -which is just as well given that this is a bit of a slow-burn at just 3 episodes.

Not enough plot moves are embedded to really push this into spooky territory or to put it alongside others such as Agnes of God or The Name of the Rose. Gemma Arterton and the exotic backdrop are probably the central reasons to partake of this tale.

Not having seen the Deborah Kerr film I can’t be sure it this outranks it, but after all these years the original has a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes at less running time.

Black Narcissus Double episode 8:30pm tonight (Part 3 April 12) on FOX Showcase. All episode On Demand.


  1. Like other mini series such as hanging rock the producers that make it should look at the movie before wasting money and time on stretching out the movie for a mini they always lack in the writing and add characters that are not in the original.
    we see a remake of darling buds of may it wont be anywhere near as good as the original these people need to come up with new ideas not coping old movies or tv shows it never works

  2. I would suggest watching the 1947 Black Narcissus movie first, the story definitely suits the British theatrical style of that post WWII era, the actors involved had a lot of stage experience including the production designers who won an Academy Award for this film.
    And of course who can dislike Deborah Kerr.

  3. The original comes on SBS Movies on a regular basis during the day (one of the few ‘golden oldies’ in their library)- IMDB reviews critique the deathly slow pace of the mini series.

    • The truth is that the 1947 movie, while entertainingly melodramatic, doesn’t deliver much in the way of character motivation or nuance, while the mini-series remake, which has more time to explore the narrative and the characters, comes off as slow and thin. Both shortcomings can be blamed on the source material, which is actually a pretty shallow bodice-ripper that is short on both narrative and character depth. The re-make is visually stunning though, and as much of a treat for the eyes as the original.

      • I watched the movie again a few years ago, as it a taut pschological melodrama and period piece, it holds up well. The characters motivations were fairly obvious, people from a sheltered convent struggling to deal with a foriegn culture an isolated and hostile place as their own emotions resurface.

        100 is a bit excessive but the film has a 7.8 on IMDb and 86 on Metacritic.

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