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Monday, 26 January 2015

Classic Film Review: The Nun's Story (1959)

The Nun's Story stars Audrey Hepburn as Gabrielle van der Mal, the daughter of a respected doctor (Dean Jagger), who decides to enter a convent with the ultimate aim of being able to battle tropical diseases in the Congo. It follows her various trials to get there and her troubles with her faith that manifest themselves most acutely when she meets Dr Fortunati (Peter Finch) and after the outbreak of war.

This is a pretty long film and, at times, it feels too long. While I found the intricacies of entering the convent and their teachings fascinating, I'm quite probably in the minority on that score. The opening section of the film, then, can be seen as lengthy and, something that certainty doesn't help a viewer trying to hook onto something, are all the various nuns who flit in and out of the film. Such luminaries as Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft have roles but keeping everyone straight, especially in the different locations, is tricky. However, in a film of this breadth that's to be expected.

Those are my criticisms but there's plenty to enjoy in this film. Audrey Hepburn is, quite simply, brilliant as Sister Luke, conveying more in the simple flicker of her eyes than most actresses could do with a placard held up. Her struggles, though rarely directly spoken of, are manifest in every scene, growing stronger as time passes. There's never a moment where the audience doesn't know what she's thinking, even if the person she's speaking to is clueless.

Beyond Hepburn's performances, the unshrinking depiction of religious life and the struggles faced by nuns is notable, along with the brief entry into the world of mental health care. Similarly, there is one scene later that is extremely shocking, more so because it comes out of nowhere. The dramatic moments in this film are few and far between but it's never boring. In addition, the score is wonderful and the direction so precise that you can feel the dedication in every moment.

Ultimately, this is a film to watch at least once. I may not watch it again because of the length but it's an exceptional Audrey Hepburn film - and that's a feat in itself.

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