BBC1, last night
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No wonder the Noble General is having trouble finding tenants for his Himalayan palace in Black Narcissus (BBC1). Shutters slam open and doors slam shut. Cats fall dead. The caretaker puts out bowls of milk for the resident ghost and the property comes along with a zombie yogic holy man.
The ambitious sister Clodagh is determined not to take note of all this fulfillment as she and her four nuns establish a Christian missionary school called St Faith.
The Sister Superior is played by former Bond Girl Gemma Arterton, who was Strawberry Fields in the forgettable Quantum Of Solace (she would wish this fact was not always figured out, but of course she will be Strawberry Fields forever).
Ambitious Sister Clodagh is determined not to see any of the following role as she and her four nuns establish a Christian missionary school called St Faith
The palace of Mopu on the border of India with Nepal was formerly the home of the concubines of the local Maharajah. In 1914, his disturbed daughter threw her from the clock tower into the gorge, and now, 20 years later, her restless ghost creeps down the corridors and appears like a kind of inverted vampire in mirrors.
“The truth to be told,” murmured the general (Kulvinder Ghir), “I never liked this palace.”
No-nonsense Clodagh refuses to be distracted by this, and when the highly tense beginner Ruth (Aisling Franciosi) starts chatting about seeing the dead, she gives her a stiff slap around the pennant.
But even Clodagh cannot remain unaware of the demonic charm of Mr. Dean, played by Alessandro Nivola. Mr Dean flirts with all the nuns, a cigarette like a sexy Andy Capp clenched between his lips. Ruth gets weak on the knees every time he looks at her side.
The Sister Superior is also fantasizing about driving through sunlight meadows and dipping skinny, and I do not think we need Doctor Freud to tell us what this is all about.
If you have never seen Deborah Kerr’s Oscar-winning film in 1947, this adaptation of Rumer Godden’s novel feels original and surprising – an erotically charged combination of a psychological horror film and Call The Midwife. In one scene the ladies teach local rapscallions, in the next scene they get hot glows over the fading harem paintings.
And all draw them to the stone steps that cling without balustrades on the side of the palace above a cliff. This is the only way to get to the bell tower and nuns have to call regularly. You would think that Mr. Dean could at least fix a wooden rail.
The peculiar name Black Narcissus continues tonight and closes tomorrow. This is easily the best thing that has been about Christmas. Even if you are not a fan of ghost stories, it is worth looking at the beautiful scenery. It is partly shot in Nepal and has a background of mountains that are so large that it looks too big to fit in the sky.
Jim Broadbent also has a cameo and plays a priest who has a fever to get out of the post
There is also the late Lady Diana Rigg in her last TV role, who quickly pierces Sister Clodagh’s sisterly attitude before sending her to the frozen north by announcing that no one thinks she’s fit.
Jim Broadbent also has a cameo and plays a priest who thinks fever to get out of the post.
Preliminary parts for aging television titans could exacerbate bad production: Orson Welles did a lot of it, and his presence suggests the budget was wasted before filming began.
But the appearance of these two stars in the opening scenes was well judged, reassuring us that this unusual story has a substructure of high standards and attention to detail.
Rosie Cavaliero, Karen Bryson and Patsy Ferran are the other missionaries, tight in their rough cotton habits. When they lay down to spend their first night on the floor of the stone palace, their heads and bodies were bound in white cloth and they looked like medieval plague corpses.
Despite the strength of the cast around her, it is very much Miss Arterton’s job to carry the drama. Sister Clodagh’s self-confidence was shattered by the Mother Superior’s prediction that she’s too self-centered and inexperienced to cope.
The slightest threats to her authority make her tremble with rage. Even the failure of the indoor toilet is considered a personal insult. When Mr. So Dean wanders around in the muddy courtyard, unashamedly whistling and reliving the original emotions she thought were buried, the poor woman will definitely be upset.
The locals all exchange with acquaintances. This place used to be called the House of Women, and wild need plunged into its walls. Single-length robes and a wooden cross statue are no protection against it.
The House Of Women would make a better title than Black Narcissus. As far as the matter is concerned, would the ghost of the concubine, the death of the sister of the general – or, if you want to go the full Mills & Boon, what about the heights of the forbidden passion?
But forget the name. Everything about this is wonderful.