Gemma Arterton, the star of BBC One’s festive drama highlight Black Narcissus, says as the series is almost twice as long as the Oscar-winning 1947 movie the story will go into more depth and be closer to the Rumer Godden book on which they’re both based.
The novel, Black Narcissus, was published in 1939 and draws on Godden’s intimate knowledge of the Asian subcontinent as it tells the story of a group of nuns charged with setting up a convent in a mysterious temple in the Himalayas and their subsequent psychological disintegration.
Arterton told The One Show that the mini-series could honour the book more than the double Oscar-winning Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell film which starred Deborah Kerr in the role of Sister Clodagh, a part that she plays in the new adaptation.
Arterton said: “We definitely wanted to pay homage to the film because it is so memorable, but we were also aware that there would be a lot of people that were perhaps not familiar with the film or the book, so it’s for them as well. So hopefully it will go into more depth because it’s such an amazing story and it’s so unique.”
The cast of the BBC One series spent time with Anglican nuns in Oxfordshire to help understand their cloistered lives.
Arterton said: “There was big reform in the Church in the late ’60s in terms of how nuns and monks lived because it was very strict so we went to visit some Anglican nuns in Oxfordshire. [It’s] a lot more relaxed than how it is in Black Narcissus but at the same time so interesting because we got to see how they interact with one another. They’re kind of shut off, they live with each other all the time and there are kind of nit-pickings between them, which was really interesting to us because Black Narcissus is about what happens when you’re locked in and what happens when you’re isolated.”
The times spent with the nuns helped “humanise” them, she said.
As well, the core cast travelled to the remote part of the Himalayas where the story is set to help understand the environment.
“I’m so grateful, we managed to get out there before lockdown happened and it was absolutely beautiful, one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said.
“It took us two and half days to get there, it was amazing to go because it really made us appreciate what the nuns go through. They are in the middle of nowhere, completely cut off from civilisation as they know it and surrounded by this absolutely breathtaking beauty – that is one of the reasons why they start going a bit doolally!”
Arterton also got to act with one of her idols, Dame Diana Rigg, who pays Mother Dorothea, before she died in September.
” She was all the things I hoped she would be: funny, such a twinkle in her eyes, so witty and an amazing actress and I was lucky enough to have a two-hander with her, so it’s a really special scene in the film.”
Black Narcissus premieres on BBC One on Sunday 27th December.