Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeAnglophonia/Caliban23Première partie : Montagnes poéti...The Mountains of Tibet in Powell ...

Première partie : Montagnes poétiques et esthétiques

The Mountains of Tibet in Powell & Pressburger’s Film Black Narcissus (1947)

Raphaëlle Costa De Beauregard
p. 103-110


Cette étude souligne le lien entre cinéma en couleur et rêve dans le film : trois rêves d’un Mopu idéal sont présentés : un Mopu qui serait comme une ville anglaise, les rêves secrets des femmes, tel que le rêve amoureux (amour passion, couleurs vives "wildly exotic zerotic"), et aussi rêve sur la montagne bleu/blanc : le saint homme rêve de communiquer avec la création. D’une manière générale la montagne bleue est présentée comme un lieu céleste, inaccessible et envoûtant tout à la fois : il s’agit aussi d’un rêve éveillé pour le metteur en scène puisque le film a été entièrement réalisé en studio, du moins en ce qui concerne les séquences à Mopu, c’est-à-dire au cœur de l’Himalaya

Top of page

Editor's notes

Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, Black Narcissus (1947); adapted from R Godden’s novel Black Narcissus (1939), produced by The Archers, & Rank, photography Technicolor Jack Cardiff, music and sound score: Brian Easdale, designer Alfred Junge; cast: Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Kathleen Byron.

Full text

  • 2 Rumer Godden, Black Narcissus (1939): the novel draws on the author’s experience of India. In the f (...)
  • 3 See early Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

1The film opens on a panoramic view of high snow-capped mountains and deep blue valleys: it tells us at once about exotic and inaccessible summits that thrill our imagination. The cryptic title2 (Street 3) which flashes like a banner upon the evocative view somewhat jars with its sublime summits by its connotations of darkness and mystery. However the opening sequence soon channels these vast and vague desires within a highly defined cultural frame: the British Raj in India, and the plans which a group of well-intentioned British women have established to capture its wilderness. The lily of Victorian iconography and its ambivalent connotations, being both pearly white and heavily scented3 versus the moralization of desire as "black", "sinful", along with its Freudian reference to the myth of Narcissus, might also occur to viewers with more literary or painterly interests.

2The novel, and the film which closely follows the plot (Street 3-14), is about an order of Anglo-Catholic nuns who establish a school and dispensary in Mopu, in a deserted palace in the hills north of Darjeeling built by General Ranjit Rai for his harem. His son having more European leanings, attempts to transform this "House of Women" into a British colony: he invites the nuns led by young Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) to fulfil this purpose, yet the "spirit of the place" eventually gets the better of their determination and they have to leave Mopu.

3The film constantly screens the encircling Himalayan mountains which embody the natural forces defeating the missionaries, and even become a vehicle for the awakening of the nuns’ repressed desires, following the Freudian view that women are the seat of irrepressible sexual fantasies. The tantalizing mountains find a less distant, even sometimes promiscuous echo for the nuns in the person of Mr Dean (David Farrar), the General’s English agent who assists the nuns when they arrive at Mopu but is sceptical about their chances of success. Sister Clodagh is forced to rely on him for practical assistance but mistrusts him deeply: as she puts it in the Imperialist terminology, "he has gone native" and "is bad with women".

4The action hinges on three disastrous events: Sister Clodagh is forced to accept the General’s young son Dilip Rai (Sabu) who wishes to attend school but eventually elopes with a young maid Kanchi (Jean Simmons) instead, and one of the nuns gives a harmless medicine to a sick baby who, having then died, causes the whole village to accuse the nuns of evil doings. The palace-school-dispensary is utterly deserted by them. These two events taking place under the impressive but also indifferent "eye" of the snow-capped mountains lead to a third—and this time tragic—one as the tension reaches a climax to the ominous accompaniment of loudly beating drums from the angry villagers. Sister Ruth breaks her vows and declares her love for Mr Dean in a flaming red dress (not in the novel, in which she is in the habit of a nun), but she is sent back by him to the convent. However her frustration drives her mad and she plans to kill Sister Clodagh at the bell tower but she falls to her death over the ledge into the precipice. Mountains are not only alluring peaks but also lethal crevices, the film seems to be saying along with the novel.

5The three catastrophic events have been discussed from various angles already: the film has thus been read as a questioning of the British Raj, with the interesting suggestion that to show the collapse of the Empire in 1939, the novel uses a feminine image of its stereotypes instead of the earlier masculine ones (Jakumar), and has also been discussed as an exceptional technical and aesthetic achievement (Moor). This paper will approach the film from a different angle, and focus on the screening of the mountains as images of the characters’ dreams, first as a distant object, and secondly, as a physical antagonist which eventually defeats their ambitions and forces them back to the reality of their sex.

Mountains in Mopu: the screening of dreams in the film

6The discursive structure of the film borrows from the novel the distanciation of the very object, Mopu itself, and its dream-like reality. The place is presented indirectly through the imagination of the characters, thus establishing this place in the distant Himalayas as a Westerner’s imaginary construct. In the film we see a map with the eyes of the Mother Superior in Calcutta: this map shows a first interpretation of the place by a Westerner’s drawing practice, i.e. perspective, and the focus of the Mother Superior’s eyes superimposes a topical reference at a time when India was on the way to its independence. She says to Sister Clodagh "we can proceed with our plan". We then hear the voice-over of Mr Dean as we read part of the contents of his letter to the Mother Superior with Sister Clodagh’s eyes, which superimposes on the said "plan" yet another point of view. Clodagh’s imagination—whose viewpoint we adopt as we read the letter with her—is aroused by the foreign attractiveness of the place, as well as by the challenge of a difficult mission which she is to be in charge of. The framed letter first intercuts with shots on engravings of the palace and then with an embedded sequence on Angu Hayat, the General and Mr Dean. We are thus also given the inhabitants’ opinion about Mopu (Jakumar 61).

  • 4 This is comparable to the British in Ε. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924).

7The point of view of the "host country" inhabitants, called "natives" by Sister Ruth who vehicles the colonial ideology and prejudice in the film,4 is thus carefully balanced against the nuns’ imaginative drive: their arrival inspires irritability in Mr Dean and Angu Ayah, but it fits the General’s "enlightened despotism". The villagers are to be paid to send their children to the school and the sick to the dispensary. This casts an ironical light on the nuns’ plans, since he sees himself as the true "missionary" of his subjects and uses the nuns as a mere tool in his plans to turn the villagers into English citizens. The visit paid to the nun by the young General who applies for registration in the school also discloses the discrepancies between the two dreams: the white European dream of intellectual supremacy is ironically put in parallel with the young man’s ambition to be given a European education as he imagines it. An ironical light is also cast upon the European education which is given to the children (girls only) and by the presence of the mysterious Hermit. He turns out to be the general’s uncle, who has served in the British army but has now retreated into complete silence and contemplation of the mountains, and is worshipped by the people as their "Holy Man".

8Thus the film dramatizes various viewpoints on a situation which is highly representative of colonialism, both from the European point of view and from the complex point of view of the Indian upper class while the people’s point of view is not considered, unless Ayah and Kanchi’s reactions to the situation and the openly critical stance of Mr Dean who is in the Rajput’s service can be said to voice a hostility to foreigners.

  • 5 Theirs is an order in which the nuns have to renew their vows every year.

9These various ambitions are screened against the mountains which provide a backdrop to the different scenes: either they project on the palace rooms and the indoor scenes the discomforts of the cold temperature, intense light and incessant wind which we associate with high altitude, or they become the object of fascination for more sensitive nuns such as Clodagh—she is seen in four flashbacks recalling her youthful and unhappy romance in Ireland—and Philippa who, though we do not see her memories, nevertheless confesses them to Clodagh. The bright light reflects on white washed walls, on some villagers’ tanned complexion, on the saturated red, yellow, blue and green colours of the materials: wool or cotton for the villagers (Kanchi for instance) as well as for Mr Dean, silk for the two princes. This bright light which is so characteristic of altitude, is not reflected by the nuns’ white habit but on the contrary absorbed by its thick pearly white fabric, an effect which gives their silhouettes a sort of monolithic density. Their costume however is often sent flying by the wind, their veil, wimple and cloak thus looking quite "agitated" in outdoor scenes or in the passages leading from one room to the next, or when they (Sister Ruth, and later sister Clodagh) ring the bell standing on the ledge of the bell tower over the precipice. The temperature gets colder as the winter settles in and the nuns have to wear grey woollen mittens for Christmas scenes. But when the spring comes and colours return, their complexion has changed from a soft pink to a colourless grey; while an even more striking chromatic change is introduced when Sister Ruth decides not to renew her vows5 a non-diegetic red light becomes predominant, and even appears on the everlasting snow-capped mountain tops, as will be discussed below. Indeed the violence of the last scenes of the film suggests rather the eruption of a volcano than snow-capped summits.

Rubbing "blue pastel in the sky" (Cardiff 88)

10The opposition between vertiginous heights and dizzying depths is found in the film, as well as the contrast between outside and inside, in outdoors scenes set off against scenes shot indoors, while these contrasts are softened by the use of light and sound in a synaesthesic effect rendering the oxymoronic essence of the "Black Narcissus" fragrance (Street 13). The control over the rendering of the disturbing as well as inspiring effect on the nuns of the presence of the mountains in the film is achieved by a surprising decision not to use location shots at all, but on the contrary to shoot the mountains in the studio in London (Street 13, quoting Powell).

11However I would suggest that British spectators – and American ones – were by then used to such hybridisation of location shots and studio shots, and took it for granted that the action took place on the location which materialized on the screen. For example, another contemporary British production, Korda’s successful The Four Feathers (1939), had extraordinary Technicolor shots of the River Nile and of the desert of the Sudan; the use of a Technicolor camera to answer the general interest in exoticism with authentic "travelogue" footage equally addressed audiences’ fascination for cinema as "visual splendour" (Petrie 41).

12Therefore if Powell’s choice came as a surprise to Jack Cardiff, it was due to the fact he had great experience in Technicolor exteriors, having shot the extremely strenuous film on the British Merchant Navy Western Approaches directed by Pat Jackson in 1944, and, in the beginning of his career as Technicolor operator and cinematographer, successful "Travelogues" (Cardiff 50-68), and clearly thought it necessary to travel to Tibet.

13On the other hand, despite the fact it was shot with the settings designed by Alfred Junge (Street, pl. l to 6), the film also exhibits an interest in the documentary genre created by Grierson, a fact which is noticeable in the commentary which accompanies the shots on the villagers. Indeed Mr Deane’s voice-over is heard describing them in an overtly neutral "ethnographic" or "travelogue" tone which is quite foreign to Sister Clodagh’s excitement.

14The structure of the travelogue is thus imported into the filmic texture in more than a mere setting of distant "painted" mountains. We are shown the villagers as icons of the human capacity for adaptation in a given natural context: the simplicity of the painted rocks is echoed in the unsophisticated behaviour of the villagers; the close-ups of their "ethnographic" smiling faces show that they are as inscrutable as the mountains themselves. Therefore the discursive form of distant mountain explorations, or anthropological documentary footage, is integrated and contributes to the illusion of the landscape.

15The documentary approach, however, is embedded in an altogether different approach of mountains as panoramic spectacle which goes back to the sublime and the art of landscape painting, as discussed below. Thus the decision to use Alfred Junge’s sets and the painting skills of W.P. Day, manages to give not only tangibility but also a "picturesque landscape" appeal to the mountains, and situates the film within the special effects tradition of cinema. (Bukatman 213).

16The difficulties involved by Technicolor cameras and film stock were enhanced because "the Himalayan backdrop was recreated via glass paintings" (Petrie 76). As Cardiff himself argues (Cardiff 88), there are really no boundaries for the skilled artist-cinematographer between the documentary black and white photograph and the illusion of reality being produced by rubbing part of the photo’s surface with coloured chalk, both being on glass. What matters in the last instance is that the special effects make the spectator’s reception mingle illusion and reality within the fabric of the screen fiction, and this is obtained by the careful lighting of the set by the camera operator, as noted by Petrie: "Cardiff s work [gives] a generally crisp clear quality for the Himalayan setting" (Petrie 76), i.e., it is the creation of the illusion of outdoor light in the film, owing to the translucid light in the glass transparency, which gives the distant blue mountains their remarkable appeal.

17Cardiff is indeed even credited for using coloured lights and other filters despite Technicolor technicians’ advice. He recalls for instance the special light he used for the dawn sequence:

It was the last day for which Deborah Kerr was contracted and we had this shot to do at dawn. The day dawned beautiful and I decided to put a fog filter on the camera. In those days you didn’t use fog filters because the whole thing about Technicolor was that the image had to be very sharp. [...] "Rubbish", said Michael.[...] "You really must allow Technicolor to have some art" (Cardiff 89).

  • 6 Cardiff had originally won the competition selecting an English camera man to be trained by Technic (...)

18Just as light behind glass paintings rendered the reflection of natural light on imaginary snow-capped mountain-tops, the camera actually painted with light, since here the altitude dawn light was painted with filters on the natural outdoor sky itself. When Michael Powell claimed the necessity for Technicolor screening of fictional reality with "art", he had in mind Old Masters’ (Rembrandt, Vermeer) chiaroscuro paintings just as Cardiff had in making such decisions.6

Sublime mountains and "fallen women" in the film

  • 7 Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818, Oxford: Oxford Classics, 1985) 125-6, quoted by Richard Dyer, (...)
  • 8 Jack Cardiff says he had their lips painted white to downplay their natural lip colour (Cardiff 88)
  • 9 See the hermit in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia (London: Faber and Faber, 1993).

19The appeal of mountain tops is of course a major topos of nineteenth-century fiction as an often quoted passage in Northanger Abbey amply illustrates. The climbing of a mere hill, in this case, is humorously put into parallel with the young girl’s education as she is preparing for her new role as a married woman.7 In a similar manner Rumer Godden’s novel as well as its screen adaptation explore the influence of climbing to the top of the cliff, where the palace of Mopu is situated, on the nuns whose dedication to the humble tasks of a dispensary and a school is contrasted with the contemplative life of other Catholic nuns. The imagery of heights as a means of visualizing the ascension of one’s soul by means of the control of one’s body is a topographical transcription of the earlier Platonist description of several layers of increasing self-control and more and more spiritual love in the Symposium. In the film, the contrast between monochrome colours for the nuns, whose very face should not display too many pigments,8 as a visual embodiment of their struggle to reach such intellectual summits, and the use of polychromy contrasting vividly saturated blues and reds and intense greens where the valley is concerned, as an equally visual embodiment of the invisible forces they are struggling against reaches a climax in two sequences: Sister Clodagh’s near collapse, and sister Ruth’s actual fall. In the first of these, the camera frames Clodagh in a close medium shot as she tearfully blurts out to Mr Dean—who is now in the role of a confessor—how hard she has been struggling to keep her mind and body under control. The camera frames them as they are commenting on the nuns’ failure, and the precipice they are standing above becomes a visual metaphor of their fall. Mr Dean urges the nuns to go back to Calcutta, but Sister Clodagh’s inner turmoil gets the better of her iron will because their departure signifies the collapse of the whole endeavour to reach intellectual as well as religious summits. Among her complaints is her failure to dislodge the Holy Man who is sitting on the mountain cliff: within the imagery of soul-raising mountain-climbing, he is ironically already master of the place as well as a model for self-control: as a true English eighteenth-century hermit, he sits in front of the mountains day and night without moving or speaking.9

  • 10 And their American heirs, the Luminist painters of a Transcendantalist Emersonian "transparent eyeb (...)

20This is where the panoramic view of the mountains painted in the picturesque "sublime" of English landscape painters10 becomes central to the film: the above quoted "education" of Austen’s Catherine is found in Longinus’s earlier depiction of the rhetorical sublime and its power to enthral and elevate the mind of man; with Addison and Burke, the literary form was transformed into an aesthetic strategy in panoramic descriptions but only as a source of effects on the reader/viewer (in landscape gardens): excess, hyperbole were turned into the huge mountainscape eluding description and inspiring awe by its dimensions. In the film, this is expressed in the mountains which are made to look hopelessly out of reach by means of deep blues and inaccessible summits. The Holy Man’s contemplative stillness in its total imperviousness to the events which happen around him, matches the awesome altitude of the mountain-tops in more than one frame.

21On the other hand, Alfred Junge’s sets also use monumental architecture to convey the special-effects of the sublime, not only to the nuns but also to us spectators. The most striking instance of the monumental size of the palace is probably the bell tower on the very edge of the precipice over the valley: it is used at least three times in the film to frame the frail and dwarf like silhouettes of the nuns as they ring the mighty bell.

22Thus the setting in the film, a combination of painted backdrops and studio sets as has been shown, powerfully contributes to the ironical paradox of the contradictory effects of the sublime on spectators: while it was initially believed to educate the viewer and the mountain climber, in its very excess it was also thought to initiate a crisis by disrupting the customary relationship between subject and external reality. As Bukatman writes: “it threatens human thought, habitual signifying systems, and, finally, human prowess: the mind is hurried out of itself by a crowd of great and confused images” (Bukatman 213). However, while the traumatic experience is usually concluded in ordinary experience by a process of appropriation, the film focuses on the trauma itself, by adding the above quoted four flashbacks which are shot on location in England, celebrating the peace of a fishing party (in Ireland), the joys of foxhunting and horse-riding, the cosy hearth of an (Irish) and family warmth, the Christmas singing in the snow. Each time, the more "beautiful" than "sublime" landscape, to quote Burke, is edited in parallel with a Mopu scenery: the sunshine through the open chapel window, the sound of a dog barking, the emeralds worn by the young General, the melody which the small community sing in the chapel at Christmas. The jarring dissonance between the homely sweetness of the English settings and the uncanny Mopu palace is brought into light by the metamorphosis of Clodagh’s face each time. When reminiscing the Christmas singing for instance, the overlapping of the two places visualizes their similitudes (same melody and same time of year, also with a snowfall), but also their differences. These are underscored by the unexpected intrusion within the English reconstruction of an ideal Christmas within the convent walls (i.e. not with the villagers) of Mr Dean and the young General. The sublime of Mopu is desecrated in that grotesque scene, while the beautiful home landscapes are sublimated instead.

23While the flashbacks had to be taken out from the American version (Street 63-72), their juxtaposition in the film which is available today is highly effective in helping us visualize the crisis which the "sublime" has caused in the nuns’ hearts, and motivates the major change in the use of light and colour for the tragic conclusion of the film.

24The second sequence in which the film equally dramatizes in Technicolor effects the metaphor of mountain viewing to express the attempt at reaching spiritual heights, shows the subsequent encounter between the two nuns, as Sister Ruth has actually given up her vows and ordered a dress and lipstick which are duly delivered to her. The imagery of the cliff heights as a visual metaphor of the enterprise of sublimating one’s desires by prayer and hard physical work, akin to self-torture—a Catholic feature of physical control over one’s flesh which is iconicized by a close-up on sister Philippa’s scarred hand palms—is subjected to an anamorphosis by the irruption of vivid green and vivid red in the lighting of the scene. In the convent of St Faith, the monochrome nun’s habit is contrasted with a red dress and red lipstick in a suggestive close-shot on Ruth’s lips; later, Ruth’s hysteria is materialized by a subjective camera shot of a flash of transparent red which invades the whole screen to be followed by a black screen. Now the whole convent of St Faith becomes the visual metaphor of her fall from those spiritual summits. As we realize she is on her way back from Mr Dean’s house in an outburst of lethal madness, the camera moves to a dramatic shot of Sister Clodagh in front of the mountain tops, near the bell tower, in a luridly flashy Technicolor key-light as a backdrop to her dark silhouette. As dawn is drawing near, and little Joseph brings her a hot drink, he comments upon the pink hue of the now oddly silent snow-capped mountain tops – we have heard, and seen, villagers beating their drums all night on account of the child’s evil death, a drum beat which has punctuated Sister Ruth’s metamorphosis as well as her wild escape through the wood of bamboo trees towards Mr Dean’s house. The little boy gives us a key to the significance of the mountain in this climactic scene: he says it is 5.45 and that the people call this time "the flowering of the snows".

25With the sudden flash of pink on the mountain tops, it is the whole convent of St Faith which is pervaded with Ruth’s madness, and the monochrome habit of Clodagh is now steeped in colourful hues. The desperate struggle which ensues between the two women in the bell tower is edited with inserts of Clodagh’s foot slipping or regaining hold, of her face and hands on the bell rope, which intercut with shots on Ruth’s white face in the reddish light.

26But the mountains have been even more directly associated by the sisters themselves to their "fall" from grace. In an earlier sequence beginning with the children being taught names of flowers, the camera cuts to Clodagh looking up as a shadow bars her eyes, then to what she observes, i.e. Philippa looking at the mountains across the valley, shading her eyes with her hand. Clodagh realizes she has not been planting vegetables but flowers; as we follow her joining the elderly sister we overhear their conversation as it focuses on the mountains. Sister Philippa confesses she has fallen under the influence of the beauty and exoticism of the place and has forgotten her mission, i.e. to adapt European vegetables in a foreign soil, or, in neocolonialist terms, to re-appropriate the foreign soil by compelling it to grow European seeds (Street 46).

27While Clodagh enumerates the obstacles she is unable to overcome, we, as spectators, have been shown an altogether different type of obstacles which she is totally unaware of because they are inherent to her culture. For us viewers, the full irony of the nuns’ doomed enterprise is conveyed in the film by the lessons which the children are taught: the young general is asked to coin a hardly ever used French form: the subjunctive of the verb "s’asseoir", the small girls must know the name of British weapons, and when they are taught the names of English flowers, this is out-ruled by the more pragmatic necessity of planting "potatoes".

  • 11 He does use colonial phrases sometimes as when he speaks of the villagers as "children", but it see (...)

28It seems to me that, whether we like it or not, we are made to share Mr Dean’s point of view on Mopu and its people, as well as his point of view on the nuns as women, however iconoclastic this may sound.11 And, interestingly, his language is seldom akin to British colonial sociolectal phrases, but rather borrows from the philosophy of a European who has adapted to the people’s way of life. I suggest that the contemptuous colonialist remark about him: "he has turned native" would today, I believe, not only be ruled out as altogether politically incorrect, but even understood in quite an opposite light, i.e. as the indication of his wisdom in front of the "mountains" of the real world.

29The obstacles Clodagh enumerates not only epitomize the general sense of failure which she and the other nuns have to face, but it also shows how the mountains—which have been semiotized by Western culture, as said above, are here invested with a different, and deeply ironical, meaning. They have come to signify the outer world in its resilience along with man’s incapacity to chart it into a controllable world of religion and economy, if not politics. As it turns out, the nuns leave "when the rains come", and we see Clodagh giving one last parting look to the Palace over the cliff as it vanishes in the clouds like a mere hallucination. And the last shot of the film is, rather oddly, I feel, devoted to a close shot of Mr Dean’s head and shoulders as he looks down on us viewers who have shared as dreamers Clodagh’s hallucinatory vision: he is shot from a low angle and thus magnified for once, astride on his short-legged poney which, until then, has always made him look grotesque (cf. the high angle on him upon his first arrival).

30Instead of clichés of Himalayan eternity, the film introduces volcanic images of eruption and explosion, something akin to burning red lava in green vegetation, all motivated by the reflection of the red light of the rising sun on the snow-capped summits.

Top of page


Bukatman, Scott. "The Artificial Infinite: On Special Effects and the Sublime", Post-war Cinema and Modernity—A Film Reader. John Orr & Olga Taxidou eds. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000.

Jakumar, Pryia. "‘Place’ and the Modernist Redemption of Empire in Black Narcissus (1947)", Cinema Journal (vol. 40) n° 2, 2001, 57-77.

Moor, Andrew. Powell—Pressburger—A Cinema of Magic Spaces. London: I. B. Tauris, 2005.

Petrie, Duncan. The British Cinematographer. London: British Film Institute, 1996.

Street, Sarah. Black Narcissus. London: I. B. Tauris, 2005.

Top of page


2 Rumer Godden, Black Narcissus (1939): the novel draws on the author’s experience of India. In the film and in the novel, it is a perfume which was purchased by the young General at the Army and Navy Stores which he puts on a handkerchief and amiably waves about in the schoolroom, to the discomfort of the nuns.

3 See early Pre-Raphaelite paintings by Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

4 This is comparable to the British in Ε. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924).

5 Theirs is an order in which the nuns have to renew their vows every year.

6 Cardiff had originally won the competition selecting an English camera man to be trained by Technicolor experts on the unexpected interest he had awakened in the committee by expressing unabashedly his knowledge and love of art as "painting with light": "Film lighting began to show something of the chiaroscuro used by the Old Masters" (Cardiff 41-44).

7 Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818, Oxford: Oxford Classics, 1985) 125-6, quoted by Richard Dyer, White (London: Routledge, 1997) 37. See also Scott Bukatman "The artificial infinite: on special effects and the sublime", John Orr and Olga Taxidou eds., Post-war Cinema and Modernity—A Film Reader (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000) 208-22.

8 Jack Cardiff says he had their lips painted white to downplay their natural lip colour (Cardiff 88).

9 See the hermit in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia (London: Faber and Faber, 1993).

10 And their American heirs, the Luminist painters of a Transcendantalist Emersonian "transparent eyeball": Bukatman 216-8.

11 He does use colonial phrases sometimes as when he speaks of the villagers as "children", but it seems to me he is then addressing the nuns in a language which is theirs, so as to be understood by them, which is confirmed by his bawdy allusions to women taunting the nuns whom he sees as young unexperienced women, not as superior beings.

Top of page


Bibliographical reference

Raphaëlle Costa De Beauregard, « The Mountains of Tibet in Powell & Pressburger’s Film Black Narcissus (1947) », Caliban, 23 | 2008, 103-110.

Electronic reference

Raphaëlle Costa De Beauregard, « The Mountains of Tibet in Powell & Pressburger’s Film Black Narcissus (1947) », Caliban [Online], 23 | 2008, Online since 13 December 2016, connection on 19 June 2021. URL : ; DOI :

Top of page


Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Top of page
  • Logo Presses universitaires du Midi
  • Logo DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search