Stunning ‘Black Narcissus’ FX Remake Leaves Viewer In A State Of Unrequited Desire

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There is an argument to be made in favor of a limited series standing out as a curiosity in a TV world full of content vying for need. This would explain the three-part limited series of FX “Black Narcissus”.Reminiscent of vintage PBS material, Amanda Coe’s ethereal adaptation is a performance showcase that doubles as a throwback, reminiscent of a time when premium television was synonymous with “Masterpiece Theater.” However, even this long-standing title has modernized in a way that makes its period pieces less distant from the times we live in; if they don’t talk about specific current events, then at least their characters or the situations they find themselves in are relatable.

This is perhaps the main setback of this adaptation of Rumer Godden’s 1939 novel, which was turned into a 1947 film famous for its inventive aesthetic and atmospheric construction, and the outrageous nature of a story that recognizes a repressed sexual desire that none of us can avoid. , including the nuns. The ideas that drove solemn Catholics to cross paths back then are quite common these days, much to your grandmother’s dismay.

At least here, it’s handled in a way that maintains the stylistic vibe of the original and leans more on the psychological obscurity of the story. Frustratingly, it’s also the fall of this adaptation at a time when audiences expect a series to follow up on flirtations teased early in a three-hour series that behaves like an independent film. That is, it is a work of art designed to appeal to a very small audience who come to a room like this and expect a slow, methodical journey to no particular place and better. recommended for the beautiful views.

Don’t let the beauty fool you though, we played a trick in playing Gemma Arterton as Sister Clodagh, a young Anglican nun living in India while still under British rule. Among his confreres in Holy Faith, Clodagh shows the most unwavering devotion and assumes the task entrusted to him by his superior Mother Dorothea (Dame Diana Rigg in one of her last roles before her death) to open a convent school in a remote Himalayan village called Mopu.

It is not a simple mission. A previous group of monks tried and failed in a similar task. And despite a group of hardy nuns coming together to keep the place going, including the ever helpful Sister Briony (Rosie Cavaliero), the most skillful gardener in the Sister Philippa Convent (Karen Bryson), the cheerful schoolteacher Sister Blanche (Patsy Ferran) and the Convent’s youngest thorn, Sister Ruth (Aisling Franciosi), it quickly becomes apparent that many forces are allied against Clodagh.

Surprisingly, its main opposition may not come from the man who owns the place where the Convent is to be located, or from neighboring villagers, or even from the Forbidden Mountain on which it is perched, but something invisible. Whether these forces are supernatural or were already present in women is open to interpretation. The building chosen for the new convent was once a palace for the local ruler’s concubines, and with all the erotic art splashed across the walls, the place is clearly haunted by a tragic event that happened in the past.

Plus, on top of all the erotic art splashed across the walls, there are regular visits from Mr. Dean (Alessandro Nivola), a sexy British ex-paw and tea factory manager commissioned by the general owner of the palace to see the sisters. ‘ Needs. Dean and Clodagh clash immediately – playground code for “love at first sight”. But while Coe keeps Dean’s inner turmoil a mystery, save for Nivola’s smoldering stares and his habit of lingering too long in tense, terse conversations, his presence leads to a lot of self-flogging. during Clodagh’s nocturnal penance. And obviously, its effect on the ladies is not limited to her.

The question is whether the viewer is in the mood to weigh exactly what “Black Narcissus” means, and if its irrelevance even matters. It’s a strange case, really, a three-hour series built with top-level artistry with no complaints when it comes to performance – Arterton being a star and Franciosi giving us a compelling view of a steady descent into madness – or dialogue. And that leaves the story itself which, again, is an orientalist tale that is definitely a time and a place and its own thing and could have benefited from some artistic tinkering beyond wondering if this is. meant to be a ghost story or a tale about the madness that springs from repressed desire.

“Black Narcissus” makes a better argument for this second part, but not strong enough to make its arguments, bringing us back to that middle zone of frustration and questioning: is this a ghost story? A tragedy of eroticism without compensation? Is this a parable for the ravages of colonialism or a metaphor for Britain losing its grip on a land it never had a right to it in the first place? (A significant evolution from the original film is that the South Asian characters are played by South Asian actors but they still stay on the periphery.)

And the main, overwhelming question: is it still necessary?

In his defense, you can ask the same of whoever inspires the title of the story, a fragrance called Narcisse Noir designed by Caron worn by one of the characters. Apparently the scent was made famous by the character of Gloria Swanson in a 1922 silent film in which she appeared with Rudolph Valentino, “Beyond the Rocks”. Although popular legend associates the perfume with her role in the much more famous ‘Sunset Boulevard’, a film Caron himself names appears on the page where you can buy the almost 110-year-old perfume, a cosmetics blogger astucieuse found the origin of the popular mania she sparked in a 1927 magazine article titled “What Pictures Do to Us.” Someday this might be a fun trivia to discuss at a party or, you know, not.

Being punctual, sometimes understanding the truth behind the how and why of a legend takes root, has no other purpose than to be interesting. But as is the case with the scent from which it takes its name, “Black Narcissus” is enchanting and heady, and most people will be fine without it.

All three episodes of “Black Narcissus” air Monday at 8 p.m. on FX and are available to stream Tuesday on FX on Hulu.

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