British cinematographer Jack Cardiff received an Oscar for his work in the film, and it was a deserving gong for an extraordinary achievement. Black Narcissus (1947), by the director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is about a group of nuns in a remote monastery in the Himalayas during the British Raj, and also features an Indian prince (Sabu), a nautch girl and a white hero material, among other people, and a stone palace next to a cliff overlooking the snow-covered mountain, and a huge bell in the courtyard.
The film is photographed with such astute minuteness that the background — the palace, the hills, the bell — becomes the part of the narrative, where the nuns are confronted with their own psycho-sexual desires leading to a violence climax, involving the bell.
And to learn that the entire film was shot in a soundstage in London’s Pinewood studios is something of a revelation, for when you see the film you cannot imagine the scenery other than the real location; every prop in the film is so tangible, and yet, it was all staged. It was Cardiff’s camera that achieved the trick. We are talking about a time when computer animation was not even a dream.
The film centres around Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh, a devout nun haunted by her past love affair, in charge of a monastery to teach the locals, who begins to fall for the local British agent, Dean. Things go out of hand when her mentally-unstable colleague Sister Ruth also falls for the same man. As the sisters fight the temptations of the flesh, a young prince who visits the palace for his education fall for a dancing girl, played by beautiful Jean Simmons.