Black Narcissus review: erotic, gothic – and totally unconvincing

While the performances are strong, this new adaptation about mysterious goings-on at a convent school lacks suspense

What is it about Rumer Godden’s 1939 tale of a band of nuns isolated in the Himalayas that attracts film-makers? The fact they are trying to set up a school in an erotica-lined palace that previously housed a harem, with nothing to distract them but the handsome agent of the Indian general who owns it? We may never know.

Anyway, here is Black Narcissus (BBC One), made famous by the 1947 film starring Deborah Kerr, in the form of a three-part miniseries. It stars Gemma Arterton in Kerr’s role as the ambitious Sister Clodagh, the youngest sister superior the Anglican convent has had and the driving force behind the move to establish the mission in the mountains. The mother superior is played, all too briefly but gloriously, by Diana Rigg, in one of her last roles. She knows trouble when she sees it and makes sure – or tries to make sure – the prideful Clodagh is sent off with people who will keep her in check, as well as have the wherewithal to turn an abandoned mansion into a shining beacon for the faith.

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