Black Narcissus is a new take on the 1947 movie, and novel by Rumer Godden and broadcasts over three nights on BBC1 this Christmas.
I’ve never seen that film, nor read the book, but reading the billing for this, it’s long and twisty-turny, and started to hurt my head, so I figured I’d just get straight into this, as Gemma Arterton (Their Finest) plays Sister Clodagh, leading a group of Sisters including Rosie Cavaliero, Patsy Ferran, Aisling Franciosi and Karen Bryson.
The nuns go on the run from Darjeeling to the Himalayas to stay at the Palace of Mopu, a building which is perched on the edge of a precipice, which looks like the worst place to construct such a behemoth, since it could quite easily slip into the void below.
We’re told it’s only been a year since the German Brothers monks were there, so in that short space of time, why has it gone from an ornate palace to a massive project that you’d expect on Homes Under The Hammer?
And since I’m talking practicalities, why would they all wear white clothes, when everything will get coated in mud? At least put planks of wood down on the ground, so as to avoid that!
There to greet them, is Angu Ayah (Nila Aalia), once a nurse to Princess Srimati (Gianni Gonsalves), before the young woman took her own life at the very start of the episode. Get ready for some additional religious mumbo jumbo when one character wants to ‘feed her hungry ghost’ by leaving food out, as if she’s Father Christmas.
It also seems ridiculous how the steps by the side of the palace are allowed, since they’d surely fail health and safety, given that there’s no handrail! And when anyone ring the bell at the top of the palace, who’s going to hear it?!
The late Dame Diana Rigg has a cameo as Mother Dorothea, and Alessandro Nivola (Chimerica) is handyman Mr Dean, who has some disdain towards the nuns, including Ms Arterton, but it’s clear they want to bang six ways from Sunday.
Then add in a load of weird stuff going on with the house… Yep, it’s THAT sort of story.
As it gets to the end of the first episode, more bizarre events start to happen, as Angu observes, “It’s started”, but for me, it had finished. Yes, the partly-CGI’d area they’re in does look pleasant, but jeez, watching the first episode is the most boring hour I’ve ever spent.
I get the impression that there may be more to come which builds upon what’s in the first hour, but if the 1947 movie could be done and dusted in 101 minutes, why does this take almost twice that length? And to all those who’ve made this, it looks nice, but you’ve bored the pants off me with the soap opera writing, and leaden performances. I’d rather do 100 laps of that very unsafe staircase, rather than watch any more of this.
In fact, since Mr Dean is such a handyman, why doesn’t he construct an indoor staircase to lead up to the bell? As well as barriers around it, so no-one can stand right on the edge? Always an essential, after someone tosses themselves off the top.
Beyond that first episode, it’s an even more tedious slog towards a conclusion you could see coming from the start of episode 1.
Black Narcissus begins on Sunday December 27th on BBC1 at 9pm. The series isn’t yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD.
Once broadcast, each episode will be on the BBC iPlayer.
Episode 1 Score: 1/10
Episode 2 Score: 0/10
Episode 3 Score: 0/10
Director: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Producer: Cahal Bannon
Screenplay: Amanda Coe
Novel: Rumer Godden
Music: Anne Dudley
Sister Clodagh: Gemma Arterton
Mr Dean: Alessandro Nivola
Sister Briony: Rosie Cavaliero
Sister Blanche: Patsy Ferran
Sister Ruth: Aisling Franciosi
Sister Philippa: Karen Bryson
Angu Ayah: Nila Aalia
Mother Dorothea: Diana Rigg
Dhanvi: Lauren Okadigbo
Srimati Rai: Gianni Gonsalves
Father Roberts: Jim Broadbent
General’s Clerk: Sabin Basnet
Sannyasi: Wayne Llewellyn
Joseph Anthony: Soumil Malla
General Toda Rai: Kulvinder Ghir
Dilip Rai: Chaneil Kular
Pin: Prabal Sonam Ghising
Samya: Komal Ghambole
Phuba: Aashish Shrestha
Kanchi: Dipika Kunwar
Con: Charlie Maher
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.