A group of nuns is despatched to a remote Himalayan community, on the invitation of the local ruler, to establish a school and clinic for his people. But few of the group are prepared for the stress of isolation in this windy mountain-top palace, amid the challenges and temptations they face. Sister Ruth conceives a passion for the local ruler's English manager, Mr. Dean, and when she is rebuffed tries to kill her superior, Sister Clodagh. The nuns retreat from their mission as the rains begin.
After the technical mastery and philosophical ambition of A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus runs the risk of appearing conventional. Certainly its least conventional aspect is also its least obvious: the remote Himalayan setting was entirely created in England, in the studio. It also marked The Archers' first recourse to material other than their own original screenplays. Black Narcissus was adapted by Pressburger from a novel by Rumer Godden, whose other sensitive exploration of the Indian impact on European sensibilities, The River, was to serve as the basis for Renoir's masterpiece three years later. Powell's decision to create an India in the English studio, magnificently served for the last time by the designer Alfred Junge, avoids the temptation of exotic ’local colour' for its own sake and enables him to concentrate exclusively on the vivid dramatization of inner conflict.
Ian Christie (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger: Arrows of Desire)