EXCLUSIVE: Alessandro Nivola and Gemma Arterton head a killer cast for a three-part adaptation of the 1939 classic Rumer Godden literary novel Black Narcissus, a tale of sexual repression and forbidden love. BAFTA-winning writer Amanda Coe (The Trial of Christine Keeler, Apple Tree Yard) wrote the three hourlong episodes and renowned DP Charlotte Bruus Christensen makes her directing debut.
BBC One is producing with DNA TV and FX Productions. The exec producers are Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich and Coe for DNA TV and FX Productions and Lucy Richer for the BBC. Filming starts in October in Jomsom, Nepal and Pinewood Studios, UK.
Black Narcissus was previously adapted for screen in 1947 by Powell and Pressburger and subsequently won two Oscars for Cinematography (Jack Cardiff) and Art Direction (Alfred Junge).
Arterton (The King’s Man, The Escape) plays Sister Clodagh, the leader of the nuns of St Faiths, who travel to Nepal to set up a branch of their order in the remote palace of Mopu. In the unfettered sensuality of the so-called House of Women, Sister Clodagh finds herself increasingly attracted to a handsome and damaged land agent, Mr Dean (Nivola). He is a dissolute English colonial and First World War veteran whose combative relationship with the head sister of the order awakens hidden longings in both. But as the repressed memories of Clodagh’s past become entangled with the tragic history of Princess Srimati, history seems doomed to repeat itself. Are there really ghosts here in the Himalayas, or are the nuns just succumbing to long-repressed primal desires? And which of them is prepared to die – or kill – for love?
Said Coe: “I’m thrilled to be adapting Black Narcissus for BBC One. It’s a truly extraordinary love story, as well as a brilliantly unsettling piece of 20th century gothic about the power of a place to get under your skin and the dangers of refusing to learn from history.”
Nivola takes on the project after filming the lead role of Dickie Moltisanti in The Sopranos prequel film The Many Saints of Newark for New Line and Warner Bros, which Sopranos creator David Chase co-wrote and produced. Aisling Franciosi (The Nightingale, I Know This Much Is True) plays Sister Ruth, Diana Rigg (Game of Thrones, Victoria) plays Mother Dorothea, Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady) plays Father Roberts, Gina McKee (Catherine the Great, Bodyguard) plays Sister Adela, Rosie Cavaliero (Prey, Unforgotten) plays Sister Briony, Patsy Ferran (Tom and Jerry, Jamestown) plays Sister Blanche, Karen Bryson (MotherFatherSon, Safe) plays Sister Philippa, and Dipika Kunwar makes her TV debut as Kanchi.
Christensen makes her directorial debut having previously been director of photography on hit films such as Girl on a Train, A Quiet Place, Fences as well as DNA/BBC Films’ Far From the Madding Crowd.
Nivola, who also stars opposite Jesse Eisenberg in the martial arts satire The Art of Self Defense and The Red Sea Diving Resort, is repped by CAA, Management 360 and UK-based Independent Talent, and Arterton is also CAA and Independent Talent.