Veiled DesiresIntimate Portrayals of Nuns in Postwar Anglo-American Film

Veiled DesiresIntimate Portrayals of Nuns in Postwar Anglo-American Film

Maureen Sabine

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780823251650

Publisher: Fordham University Press


In her vibrant screen performance as Sister Benedict in The Bells of St. Mary's, Ingrid Bergman represented the film nun as a mature modern woman who had chosen the religious life with a “complete understanding” of both erotic and spiritual desire. How did this engaging character and her cinematic sisters in later postwar popular film come to be stereotyped as girlish, incomplete, or unimportant characters± Veiled Desires explores this question through a unique, full-length study of nun films over a sixty year period beginning with the 1945 film The Bells of St. Mary's and concluding with Doubt in 2008. It argues for a more complex picture of the film nun as an ardent and active lead character who struggled with a problematic dual identity as a modern women and a religious over the course of the twentieth century. It suggests how beautiful and charismatic Hollywood stars such as Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), Deborah Kerr in Black Narcissus (1947) and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), Joan Collins in Sea Wife (1957), Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story (1959), Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965), Diana Rigg in In This House of Brede (1975), and Meg Tilly in Agnes of God (1985) called attention to the desires that the veil concealed and the vows of chastity and obedience were thought to repress. In an historically framed and theologically and psychoanalytically informed argument, the book recuperates nun films as a significant genre in Anglo-American cinema. It shows in-depth how they probed the tensions between the selfless and sacrificial desires idealized in religious life as agape and the passionate and aspirational desires valorized in feminist discourse as eros.