151 user 96 critic

Black Narcissus (1947)

Not Rated | | Drama | December 1947 (USA)
2:35 | Trailer
After opening a convent in the Himalayas, five nuns encounter conflict and tension - both with the natives and also within their own group - as they attempt to adapt to their remote, exotic surroundings.


Rumer Godden (adapted from the novel by), Michael Powell | 1 more credit »
Won 2 Oscars. Another 3 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »



Learn more

More Like This 

The Red Shoes (1948)
Drama | Music | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

A young ballet dancer is torn between the man she loves and her pursuit to become a prima ballerina.

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Stars: Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer
Comedy | Drama | Fantasy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

A British wartime aviator who cheats death must argue for his life before a celestial court.

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Stars: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Robert Coote
Drama | Romance | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

From the Boer War through World War II, a soldier rises through the ranks in the British military.

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Stars: Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

A young Englishwoman goes to the Hebrides to marry her older, wealthier fiancé. When the weather keeps them separated on different islands, she begins to have second thoughts.

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Stars: Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey, George Carney
Peeping Tom (1960)
Drama | Horror | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A young man murders women, using a movie camera to film their dying expressions of terror.

Director: Michael Powell
Stars: Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer
Comedy | Drama | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

Three modern day pilgrims investigate a bizarre crime in a small town on the way to Canterbury.

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Stars: Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

Meeting a stranger in a railway station, a woman is tempted to cheat on her husband.

Director: David Lean
Stars: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway
Fantasy | Music | Musical
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

A melancholy poet reflects on three women he loved and lost in the past: a mechanical performing doll, a Venetian courtesan, and the consumptive daughter of a celebrated composer.

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Stars: Moira Shearer, Robert Rounseville, Ludmilla Tchérina
Drama | Fantasy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

A beautiful young woman takes her father's place as the prisoner of a mysterious beast, who wishes to marry her.

Directors: Jean Cocteau, René Clément
Stars: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parély
Adventure | Drama | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

A humble orphan suddenly becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor.

Director: David Lean
Stars: John Mills, Valerie Hobson, Tony Wager
Comedy | Crime
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

A distant poor relative of the Duke of D'Ascoyne plots to inherit the title by murdering the eight other heirs who stand ahead of him in the line of succession.

Director: Robert Hamer
Stars: Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson
The Innocents (1961)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

A young governess for two children becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted.

Director: Jack Clayton
Stars: Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins


Complete credited cast:
Deborah Kerr ... Sister Clodagh
Flora Robson ... Sister Philippa
Jenny Laird ... Sister Honey
Judith Furse ... Sister Briony
Kathleen Byron ... Sister Ruth
Esmond Knight ... The Old General
Sabu ... The Young General
David Farrar ... Mr. Dean
Jean Simmons ... Kanchi
May Hallatt ... Angu Ayah
Eddie Whaley Jr. Eddie Whaley Jr. ... Joseph Anthony
Shaun Noble Shaun Noble ... Con
Nancy Roberts Nancy Roberts ... Mother Dorothea
Ley On Ley On ... Phuba


Five nuns open a convent in the Himalayas, where they encounter conflict and tension - not just with the nearby inhabitants, but also amongst themselves, as they attempt to surmount the difficulties inherent in trying to adjust to their new environment. Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A STORY OF FASCINATING ADVENTURE in a Strange and Beautiful Land! See more »




Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

December 1947 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Narciso negro See more »


Box Office


GBP280,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


For the scenes depicting the villagers, Michael Powell and his team had a ready supply of extras. As Powell wrote, "...when the war was just over, there was an immense floating population of Asians around London Docks, and we had no difficulty in building up a list of extras for the crowd scenes: Malays, Indians, Gurkhas, Nepalese, Hindus, Pakistanis, hundreds of them. We formed groups of different castes and races, and each group had a leader." See more »


An Australian kookaburra is heard laughing in a bamboo forest in the Himalayan foothills. See more »


[first lines]
Mother Dorothea: Sita, go and tell Sister Clodagh I wish to speak with her.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits:- Convent Of The Order of The Servants Of Mary - Calcutta See more »

Alternate Versions

This scene was restored when the film was re-released in the US in the 1980's. See more »


Featured in Maltin on Movies: Step Up 3D (2010) See more »


Lullay My Liking
Old Edwardian Carol
Music by Sir Richard Terry
New music by Brian Easdale
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

"Without discipline, we should all behave like children"
20 February 2007 | by Steffi_PSee all my reviews

Black Narcissus is one of those films that, no matter how many recommendations you get or how many plot synopses you read, probably won't make you want to rush out and buy it. After all, the story – nuns struggling to set up a convent in the Himalayas – won't grab many people. But Black Narcissus is far more than just a plot – it's one of the most vibrant, exciting and – how can I put it? – hysterical films ever made. Once again Michael Powell pushes the possibilities of cinema to their extremes to show you a story.

First of all, Black Narcissus has to be the most visually beautiful film I have ever seen. The set design and shot composition hark back to both German Expressionist films and the work of Dutch painter Vermeer. Joined together with the breathtaking scenery (in actual fact carefully painted backdrops) and gorgeous Technicolor every single frame is a work of art.

Michael Powell had of course made a few great colour pictures before this, but this is probably his most assured use of Technicolor. Part of this is down to the amazing cinematography of Jack Cardiff, but Powell also shows a brilliant mind for colour scheme. Like in Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, he picks fairly neutral, almost monochrome shades, which give the really bold colours a greater impact when they appear. It's no accident that this order of nuns uses white habits – white symbolising purity, like a wedding dress. In Kathleen Byron's first major scene her habit is splattered with blood, and by the end of the film she is wearing all red. The nun's peak-shaped cowls also resemble the snowy mountains that surround them on all sides, although ironically not nearly as permanent or immovable.

This is also one of the earliest examples I can think of where one genre is played as another. Black Narcissus is really a drama played as a horror. Those German Expressionist films referenced with the wonky set design and artistic shot composition – Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Nosferatu, Faust etc – were horrors. Most of the film, with its whites and blues, its large cavernous halls and not to mention the wind howling through every set has a feeling of cold eeriness. This builds up to the final half-hour which has a contrastingly hot aura of hot terror, culminating in a sequence that is the equal of the last five minutes of Nosferatu.

The use of music was Powell's best up to that point. Like the best silent film scoring, the imagery is often perfectly matched up to the score (by Brian Easdale). This is particularly nicely done in the wordless courtship between Sabu and Jean Simmons. There was a growing musical dimension to Powell and Pressburger's films, which would reach its peak with The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffmann.

Michael Powell's films were generally as daring in terms of their ideas as they were in style, and his collaborator Emeric Pressburger is really half the secret of his success. Black Narcissus has often been noted as being rather risqué and ahead of its time in portraying sexual tension, and in a convent of all places! But it is also quite bold in its statements about the British Empire, and it's perhaps no surprise that this was made one year before India gained its independence. The whole thing could be read as an allegory for the colonies biting back, but it's the smaller details that really struck me. The attitude of the nuns towards the natives is at best patronising and at worst arrogant, but they are constantly being surprised and proved wrong. For example, in one scene Deborah Kerr walks past the holy man's tree talking about him as if he wasn't there, only for David Farrar to point out that the old man once served with the British Army, and apparently speaks perfect English.

There isn't a single weak link in this picture, the actors being no exception. Deborah Kerr and Flora Robson are their usual brilliant selves. The great Esmond Knight makes a all too brief appearance. Sabu, one of the most naturalistic young actors of his era, puts in perhaps the best performance of the film, with some of the playfulness of his role in Thief of Bagdad, but with an edge of maturity and an almost dangerous feel in some scenes. There's also an appearance very young Jean Simmons, who in my opinion out-does her better known adult performances. Her character is almost entirely mute, but she communicates plenty in her face and body language. Then there's David Farrar who, like another Powell regular Roger Livesy was never a star but always a great actor. But the performance that really sticks in the mind is Kathleen Byron who looks manages to look positively demonic (with the help of a little lighting and makeup, that is).

A decade or so later, Fred Zinnemann would make The Nun's Story, a film with many similarities in plot but stylistically completely different. Whereas The Nun's Story has a detailed realism to it, Black Narcissus is a vibrant, clashing melodrama, with everything turned up to eleven. It's perfectly made, and the only reason I can think of for anyone not liking it is that they might find it too over-the-top – so much for the storyline sounding dull! As the tagline says, this truly is drama at the top of the world.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 151 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Free Movies and TV Shows You Can Watch Now

On IMDb TV, you can catch Hollywood hits and popular TV series at no cost. Select any poster below to play the movie, totally free!

Browse free movies and TV series

Stream Trending TV Series With Prime Video

Explore popular and recently added TV series available to stream now with Prime Video.

Start your free trial

Recently Viewed