TRAGEDY & SEXUALITY: a series of films... Black Narcissus

Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square, Cinema
Booking details: Free entry; booking recommended

Black Narcissus

Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1947, 100 minutes Birkbeck Cinema

Friday 15 June 6.00 pm Presenter: Carmen Mangion (Birkbeck)


Nuns set up a convent in a former seraglio on a mountain in remote Darjeeling. What could go wrong?

In Black Narcissus (1947) Powell and Pressburger produced their first completely post-war film. Though A Matter of Life and Death (1946) had been made after the war, the war was its backdrop. Partly because Black Narcissus is based on Rumer Godden's 1939 novel, it makes no reference to the war'"or, for that matter, to Indian independence, which was recognised a few months after its release.

Instead, it is preoccupied with themes Powell and Pressburger had explored in earlier films, especially a mysterious sense of place and tradition, cutting across rational individualism. Sexuality figures powerfully but ambiguously. It can derange. Yet, if it smacks of otherness, it's an otherness to be found within'"and never more terrifyingly than when Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) is transformed by self-regard, lust and jealousy. In that regard, it sits ironically in relation to the film's exotic setting, which might seem at first to embody an otherness located without. The film's cross-racial casting, however objectionable it may seem now, possibly contributes to the film's exploration of an otherness within.

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BIMI is funded by four schools at Birkbeck: the School of Arts, the School of Law, the School of Social Sciences,
History and Philosophy, and the School of Science. The University of Pittsburgh is also a partner and co-funder.

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