actors, culture, movies, scores

Nuns in Film

Get thee to a nunn’ry, why woulds’t thou be a breeder of
sinners? –Hamlet Act 3, scene 1, 120 -121

There have been a lot of films which depict convents, nuns, and the women men think should go there. Here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

John Everett Millais 1851-1852 masterpiece. Go to the Tate Gallery to see her.

Was Hamlet so repulsed by the marriage of his mother to his uncle that it spread to his relationship with Ophelia? Was he really punning and using the word “nunnery” to mean “brothel”? Was he just acting crazy and using her so she would report his peculiar antics? Probably all the above, and it instigated Ophelia’s decision to drown herself as reported by Gertrude in Act IV. Ophelia’s death inspired hauntingly fabulous artwork. Which version of Hamlet is your favorite? On stage, I wish I had seen Ralph Fiennes or Richard Burton portray the indecisive prince.

Let’s stick with films. Which version and star do you prefer as Hamlet? Perhaps Sir Kenneth Branagh (1996), Mel Gibson (1990), Ethan Hawke (2000), Laurence Olivier (1948), or  Innokenti Smoktunovsky(1964)? If you are a Shakespeare nut and love theater, this was a fun site showcasing 45 Hamlets HERE

Doubt (2008)


With an outstanding cast including Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis, the film set in 1964 featured the charismatic Father Flynn who was suspected by Mother Superior, Sister Aloysius, of inappropriate behavior of an African-American altar boy. Interesting plot twists and superb acting make this a fine drama written for the play and film by John Patrick Shanley.

Magdalene Sisters (2002)


Magdalene Sisters Asylum was an Irish institution run by nuns which housed girls sent there by their families, the law, or they were orphaned. Rejected by society, the asylum functioned more as a prison with no parole. Teaching the girls of ill-repute the way to religious redemption, the film was based on a true story of three girls whose friendship aid in their survival. This riveting drama set in the 1960s peeks into the Irish relationship with Catholicism, specifically female expectations of purity and morality. After watching the film, you will wonder how these asylums stayed open until 1996.

Ida (2013)

Ida, Sundance Film Festival 2014

Set in 1962, Ida was Jewish and orphaned during WWII and placed in a Polish convent. Now she is about to take her vows, but first she must go on a journey of self-discovery with her troubled aunt to unearth the secrets of her family. It won Best Foreign Film this year at the Oscars. Subtle and puritanical, the atypical choice made by director Paweł Pawlikowski and cinematographer pair Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal  to use Academy Ratio–that boxy look before widescreen–their choice complemented the era of the time. It worked for me. I thought the black and white compositions were stunning. The ending was perfect.

Lilies of the Field (1963)

A touching, feel-good film about two proud, strong personalities, the rambling carpenter, “Schmidt”, and Mother Maria, leader of Eastern German nuns. The nuns etch out an existence on an Arizona farm, barely able to sustain themselves. When “Schmidt” played by Sidney Poitier arrives, Mother Maria played by Lilia Skala, persuades him to aid the nuns with repairs and eventually a new chapel. The community spirit and friendship between all is uplifting.

The Sound of Music (1965)

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the best nun ever, Julie Andrews, as Maria in The Sound of Music. Roger and Hammerstein’s classic score is timeless. It falls into the same mental group of The Wizard of Oz. I find it inconceivable when I hear someone admit they have not seen either. This is one of the finer feel-good films–when was the last time you watched it?

There are plenty of films I left out. Do you have favorite films about nuns?