What better theatre in which to explore desire, hysteria, temptation and sexuality than a remote convent high up in the Indian Himalayas? And theatre this Michael Powell film most certainly is, as stressed by the gothic melodrama of the story and the acting, the studio setting with its beautiful backdrops and vivid colours and the most deliberate of characters and events. ‘There’s something in the atmosphere which makes everything seem exaggerated,’ says Mr Dean (David Farrar), the nuns’ charming local nemesis. Indeed there is, Mr Dean, and what superbly crafted, elemental and entertaining theatre this Powell and Pressburger film remains almost 60 years on.Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is taken by surprise when asked to select four nuns from her convent in Calcutta with whom to travel to distant Mopu at ‘the back of beyond’ and found a small, rural nunnery. It’s Sister Clodagh’s experience that forms the intellectual heart of this film, which appears deceptively light at first. Flashbacks reveal the reason behind her decision to become a nun: she fled a well-heeled, rural life in Ireland when a longed-for marriage failed to materialise. Which makes her relationship with bare-legged, rugged Dean – a local charmer and know-it-all – all the more stimulating. ‘Don’t you like children?’ asks Dean provocatively. Another nun, Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), who we know is ‘sick’, is a violent cauldron of conflicting desires and acts as a mirror to Sister Clodagh’s repression. Their relationship contributes to the film’s most terrifying, artful scenes at its dramatic close.
Cast and crew
Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Flora Robson David Farrar Jenny Laird Kathleen Byron Esmond Knight Deborah Kerr Jean Simmons Sabu