|The Nun's Story|
Original film poster
|Directed by||Fred Zinnemann|
|Produced by||Henry Blanke|
|Screenplay by||Robert Anderson|
The Nun's Story|
by Kathryn Hulme
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Edited by||Walter Thompson|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$12.8 million|
The Nun's Story is a 1959 American drama film directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch, Edith Evans, and Peggy Ashcroft. The screenplay was written by Robert Anderson, based upon the 1956 novel of the same name by Kathryn Hulme. The film tells the life of Sister Luke (Hepburn), a young Belgian woman who decides to enter a convent and make the many sacrifices required by her choice.
The book was based upon the life of Marie Louise Habets, a Belgian nurse who similarly spent time as a nun. The film follows the book fairly closely, although some critics believe the film shows sexual tension in the relationship between Dr. Fortunati (Peter Finch) and Sister Luke that is absent from the novel.
A major portion of the film takes place in the Belgian Congo, site of location shooting, where Sister Luke assists Dr. Fortunati in surgical procedures at a mission hospital. The location was Yakusu, a center of missionary and medical activity in the Belgian Congo.
Gabrielle "Gaby" Van Der Mal (Audrey Hepburn), whose father Hubert (Dean Jagger) is a famous surgeon in Belgium, enters a convent of nursing sisters in the late 1920s in the hopes of eventually becoming a missionary nursing sister in the Belgian Congo. After being given the religious name of Sister Luke and undergoing a postulancy and novitiate which foreshadow her future difficulties with the vow of obedience, she takes her first vows and is sent to a school of tropical medicine.
After passing high in her class but not without some spiritual conflict, after struggling with a request by Mother Superior to purposely fail her exam as a proof of her humility, she discovers to her disappointment that she has been assigned to go not to the Congo but instead to a mental hospital, where she assists with the most difficult and violent cases, even though this means her knowledge of tropical medicine will go to waste. One of these patients, a particularly violent schizophrenic (Colleen Dewhurst) who believes herself to be the Archangel Gabriel, tricks her into opening the cell door in violation of the rules and warnings given, and Sister Luke barely escapes from her to face the shame of her disobedience once again.
Nevertheless, she is eventually permitted to take her solemn vows and sent to her long-desired posting in the Congo. Once there, she is disappointed to learn that she will not be nursing the natives, but instead will be the operating nurse for the segregated whites/European patient hospital. She develops a strained but professional relationship with the brilliant, atheistic surgeon there, Dr. Fortunati (Peter Finch). Eventually, the strains of her work and spiritual struggle cause her to succumb to tuberculosis. Fortunati, not wanting to lose the ideal nurse that Sister Luke is and sympathetic with her desire to stay in the Congo, engineers an amazing cure for the TB, a condition which otherwise always requires being sent to medical care (in Sister Luke's case, back to convalesce in Europe).
Some time after Sister Luke's return to health and work, Fortunati is forced nevertheless to send her back to Belgium as the only nurse qualified to accompany a VIP who has become mentally unstable. She spends an outwardly quiet but inwardly restless period of time at the motherhouse in Brussels before the superior general finally gives her a new assignment. Because it is clear that there is going to be a war, she cannot return to the Congo, but instead becomes a surgical nurse at a local hospital.
While at her new assignment, Sister Luke's long struggle with obedience becomes impossible for her to sustain, as she is forced into repeated compromises to deal with the reality of the Nazi occupation, including the fact that they have killed her father. She asks for and with difficulty is granted a dispensation from her vows. She is last seen changing into lay garb and quietly leaving the convent by a back door.
The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Actress in a Leading Role (Audrey Hepburn), Best Cinematography, Color, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Picture, Best Sound (George Groves) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
The Nun's Story was a major box office success in its day. Produced on a budget of $3.5 million, it grossed $12.8 million at the domestic box office, earning $6.3 million in US theatrical rentals.The Nun's Story was considered, for a time, to be the most financially successful of Hepburn's films and the one the actress often cited as her favourite. Hepburn met Marie-Louise Habets while preparing for the role, and Habets later helped nurse Hepburn back to health following her near-fatal horse-riding accident on the set of the 1960 film, The Unforgiven.
The Nun's Story received its first official North American DVD release on April 4, 2006. The story behind the book and film was the subject of The Belgian Nurse, a radio play by Zoe Fairbairns, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on January 13, 2007.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
The Nun's Story currently (2018) carried a 93% favorable rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 15 reviews.