BBC One has adapted the classic novel Black Narcissus into a new limited series, with Gemma Arterton leading the Black Narcissus cast as Sister Clodagh, a nun who leads an ill-fated mission to the remote Himalayas in the 1930s.
The dramatic (but lonely) landscape is key to the show’s plot, as the nuns are overcome by the breathtaking beauty that surrounds them, while simultaneously struggling to exert some kind of control over it. As their grip over their new home slips, so too does their faith, and their control over long suppressed desires.
With a setting so integral to the series, where did filming for BBC One’s Black Narcissus take place?
Where is BBC One’s Black Narcissus filmed?
In Black Narcissus, the nuns set up base in the beautiful and remote Himalayas, in the abandoned palace of Mopu (later revealed to be a former home for a general’s concubines, and known as ‘The House of Women’).
Unlike the Oscar-winning 1947 film of the same name (shot entirely in the UK), the BBC series Black Narcissus was filmed partly on location in Jomsom, Nepal, in addition to filming in Pinewood Studios.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com and other press during a Q&A, cast members Gemma Arteton (Sister Clodagh) and Aisling Franciosi (Sister Ruth) spoke about how filming in Nepal influenced their acting.
Arteton revealed that filming on location helped highlight the importance of the story’s backdrop, as the “godliness of the place makes [the nuns] start to question God”.
She said: “We were so so lucky that we got to go to Nepal, it took us something like two and a half days to get to this final destination which is called Jomsom… And when you get there, I mean, the journey itself is so fatiguing, and it’s not even close to what the nuns would [have] experienced themselves, we had planes and cars and whatnot.
“The air is really thin and you get altitude sickness but it also kind of makes you feel really alive, and it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, so we were so lucky to be able to see that because it’s huge part of why the nuns kind of unravel, the godliness of the place makes them start to question God. Just to feel that… it’s in the middle of nowhere, like there was no phone signal, nothing, and we were up there and it was just magic.”
Aisling Franciosi added that staying in a place without phone signal or WiFi helped bring the cast together, while recreating the sense of closeness that the nuns themselves would have had.
“There was no phone reception, no WiFi either, and one of the happy results of that was that we actually became so close so quickly, because we would be sitting around in the evenings around the fire, having a couple of drinks, playing games, chatting; and because none of us could look at our phones or computers it was a nightmare for production in some ways, I’m sure, but it – particularly from the nuns’ point of view, it really gave us a sense of being very very close, which was then a lovely feeling to be able to bring to the scenes in the interiors. I think we got to know each other very quickly.”
She added that the vastness of the landscape helped her tap into the emotions of her character, Sister Ruth.
“From my point of view as well, I can only speak for myself but I find that when I’m somewhere where there’s vast beauty and total isolation or even looking for space, I get a crushing feeling of that you don’t matter, you’re irrelevant in a way, which is a very humbling feeling, but it was useful for me personally for Ruth to tap into that irrelevance.”
Where was the palace of Mopu filmed?
In BBC One’s Black Narcissus, filming for interior shots and the palace took place at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire – the same studio where the 1947 movie starring Deborah Kerr was filmed.
Speaking during the press Q&A, lead actress Gemma Arteton revealed that filming on location in Nepal prior to the Pinewood scenes was “invaluable” for the cast.
“I’m so pleased we got to experience that [the Nepalese landscape], and then obviously when we came back to Pinewood and shot a lot of the interiors and the palace, we had that in our minds, so we could remember that, which was invaluable as an actor,” she said.
Series producer Andrew Macdonald’s also told Radio Times that the family of Black Narcissus author Rumer Godden, who died, aged 90, in Scotland in 1998, were “very helpful”.
One of the novelist’s daughters visited the production last autumn during shooting at Pinewood Studios, “and brought some fantastic photographs of her mother with the original cast on a set visit, and she showed those to our cast”.
Black Narcissus begins tonight (Sunday 27th December) at 9pm on BBC One. While you’re waiting visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight, or check out our guide to new TV shows 2020 to find out what’s airing this autumn and beyond.