Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Black Narcissus (1947) Film Review Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Black Narcissus (1947) Film Review Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Figure 1  

Black Narcissus is a 1947 psychological drama film directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. This film was adapted from the novel written by Rumer Godden in 1939. 
As soon as we enter the Himilayas in this classic film we are confronted already by incredible landscapes. We see endless views over mountain peaks and sharp cliff faces, however these were not filmed on an extravagant set location but just the amazing use of matte paintings. These paintings can create an otherworldly feel to the whole picture without even using CGI. The landscapes were created by blowing up black and white photos and then coloring them with pastel chalks. This then allowed Alfred Junge (Art Director) to conjur up all sorts of landscapes. For example, he was able to create a freezing cold scene by simply using colour in the amazing backdrops. Peter Bradshaw explains that "The studio sets and backdrops are superbly and still convincingly rendered" (Bradshaw, 2005). These backdrops where also used to create vertigo ridden camera shots to give new and original perspective views to the film, seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2    

As we move the through the film you see and feel a change in mood in every scene; this could be due to the changes in lighting. When the film opens, each scene is shown in bright daylight with virtually not a grey cloud in sight, and so we consider that there is nothing peculiar about the film at all and everything is completely normal. However, as the film continues, especially towards the end, the scenes seem to be getting very dark and gloomy. There are scenes of blood red sunsets and dark black night time as we move "towards the film's almost Gothic climax." (Mirasol, 2010) The changes in lighting in this film help to create an ever changing atmosphere around the set and possibly to represent the deterioration into Sister Ruth's madness. It is common that evil can be represented by using dark and black colours.    

Also, as we are finally confronted by the "sexually charged ambience that wreaks mental and metaphysical havoc on the frenzied Sister Ruth" (Uhlich, 2012), we notice a change in appearance of the nun. Sister Ruth is now wearing a dark red dress accompanied by blood red lipstick; this could have also been used to show the decendency into madness using these colours. It also could have been used as a symbol of rebellion. The film shows Sister Ruth releasing her vows and quit being a nun due to falling in love with Mr Dean; this could be considered as a rebellion against the convent. Another word that is related to rebellion is 'Anarchy', furthermore the symbol for this word is majorly seen using the colour red, much like the colour of Sister Ruth's dress and lips. 

Figure 3  

 Links can be made from Sister Ruth's appearance to modern cinema, such as Inglorious Basterds directed by Quentin Tarantino.  Towards the end of the film we see a main character (Shosanna), dressed in a red dress and lipstick (Figure 4) commit an extreme act of rebellion in which she slaughters many Nazi leaders. The colour she is wearing could have been used to represent anarchy.

Figure 4    


Bradshaw, P (2005) Black Narcissus (1947) Black Narcissus Review, In: The Guardian [online], At: (Accessed on 13/11/2013) 

Mirasol, M (2010) "Black Narcissus," which electrified Scorsese, (Accessed on 13/11/2013)
Uhlich, K (2012) Black Narcissus Film Review, (Accessed on 13/11/2013)


Figure 1, Black Narcissus (1947) Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger [Film Poster] UK, Archers, (Accessed on 13/11/2013)

Figure 2, Black Narcissus (1947) Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger [Film Still] UK, Archers, (Accessed on 13/11/2013)

Figure 3, Black Narcissus (1947) Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger [Film Still] UK, Archers, (Accessed on 13/11/2013)
Figure 4, Inglorious Basterds (2009) Quentin Tarantino [Film Still] USA, Universal Pictures, (Accessed on 13/11/2013)


  1. Another good discussion around the use of colour Will :) ...and the bibliography looks spot-on now - well done!