Black Narcissus

TV review by
Marty Brown, Common Sense Media
Black Narcissus TV Poster Image
Unnecessary TV adaptation has sexual tension, heavy themes.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Black Narcissus is a tense drama about learning and respecting other cultures, and knowing when and how help is needed.

Positive Role Models

Characters are optimistic, generous, and charitable. They make mistakes but ultimately learn from them.

Violence

Features minimal person-on-person violence, but there are some deaths by suicide, as well as injuries and illness.

Sex

Sexual tension is a huge motif in Black Narcissus, which may only read to more mature viewers. Sexual content is limited to some quick shots of activities at a brothel.

Language

Profanity is occasionally used and includes "s--t," "damn," etc.

Consumerism

It's an adaptation of a 1939 novel and reboot of a 1947 theatrical film.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Smoking and drinking alcohol are sometimes shown.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Black Narcissus is a dramatic miniseries about a group of British nuns attempting to open up a school for children in the Himalayas. Adapted from the 1939 novel by Rumer Godden -- and subsequent 1947 film adaptation -- the series focuses largely on the cultural differences between Britain and India, the latter which was under British rule at the time the novel (and film) were released. The sisters are well-meaning but impose their ideals onto a rural community and end up doing more damage than good. Black Narcissus uses suspense, subtle eroticism, and even elements of horror to tell a fairly complex story, but the historical context may be lost on modern viewers.

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What's the story?

BLACK NARCISSUS is the story of a group of British nuns who attempt to open a school in the Himalayas in the 1930s. Despite concerns about her ambitions, Sister Clodagh (Gemma Arterton), is chosen to lead the group. They travel to a castle at the top of a mountain -- a remote location with a mysterious past. A local Englishman who works for their employer immediately warns the sisters about how difficult their task will be. Sure enough, conflicts between the nuns and the locals begin to arise, and the challenges and isolation begin to cause the sisters to act in peculiar ways.

Is it any good?

With many literary adaptions, it's always interesting to ask why. Why now? What does a 1939 novel about English nuns in the Himalayas have to say about life in the 21st century? Black Narcissus is about such a specific time and place, namely the end of the British occupation of India, that it's easy to ask why it might call for a modern remake. There's definitely an argument to be made that Black Narcissus's main theme -- the dangerous implications of one culture imposing its values onto another -- is extremely relevant to modern American discourse. But it's hard to argue that this version was made with that intention in mind. There's already a definitive version of Black Narcissus that is readily available to watch: the 1947 film starring Deborah Kerr, which premiered only a few months before India achieved independence. That adaption still looks and feels vital. The 2020 TV miniseries adds little to the 1947 version (aside from an extra hour of runtime), looks like it was inspired by the original's groundbreaking use of Technicolor, and has nothing new to say. Just like the mission in the novel, Black Narcissus 2020 is a futile endeavor.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the sisterhood. Who is Sister Clodagh? What do we know about her? What are her ambitions? What is her biggest flaw?

  • What is unique about the location where Black Narcissus takes place? How does the setting impact the mood of the story? How does the setting affect the characters?

  • How do the sisters relate to the locals? Do the relationships evolve over time? What do we learn about the differences between British culture and Indian culture from this story?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love historical dramas

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