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'Black Narcissus:' The essential guide to a lavish BBC1 drama

Black Narcissus
Gemma Arterton as Sister Clodagh in BBC1's Black Narcissus (Image credit: BBC)

The three-part series Black Narcissus is an adaptation of the classic 1939 novel by author Rumer Godden. It’s a story of love, forbidden desire, religion and sexual repression and follows the fate of Sister Clodagh (played by Gemma Arterton) and a group of British nuns of Saint Faiths, who travel thousands of miles from Britain to Nepal to set up a branch of their order in the remote Himalayan palace of Mopu.

The group find themselves in "The House Of Women," which once housed all the concubines of a former General. It’s there that Sister Clodagh becomes increasingly attracted to the arrogant land agent, Mr Dean. But as the repressed memories of Sister Clodagh’s past become entangled with the tragic history of long-dead Princess Srimati, it seems that history is doomed to repeat itself.

Are there really ghosts in the Himalayas, or are the nuns just giving in to long-repressed primal desires? And which of them is prepared to die — or even kill — for love?

How to watch 'Black Narcissus' on BBC1 from anywhere

Black Narcissus will air on BBC1 in the United Kingdom. But you don't have to miss out. You can route all of your computer's network traffic through the UK with the help of a VPN — effectively making it so that your computer or other device is in the UK, and then you can watch Black Narcissus all you want.

The catch is that you need to be able to trust your VPN, because all of your network traffic will be going through it. For that, we're longtime fans of ExpressVPN (opens in new tab).

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ExpressVPN (opens in new tab) makes it easy to watch your favorite shows no matter where you are, because it makes it possible for your internet traffic to be routed through your home country — even if you're on the road somewhere.

It's safe, it's secure, it's easy to use, and it's got a free trial, so you can make sure it's the right VPN for you. (Hint: It will be.)

'Black Narcissus' on BBC1: who's starring in the series?

British actress Gemma Arterton (Clash Of The Titans, Tamara Drewe) heads the cast as Sister Clodagh and Alessandro Nivola (American Hustle, Chimerica) stars as the object of much temptation, Mr. Dean, while iconic actress and Bond girl Dame Diana Rigg, who sadly passed away this September, plays Mother Dorothea. Also look out for Harry Potter actor Jim Broadbent as Father Roberts, while Bodyguard star Gina McKee is Sister Adela and Gianni Gonsalves plays Princess Srimati.

In fact, there's a huge ensemble cast, which also includes Aisling Franciosi (The Nightingale), Rosie Cavaliero (Prey, Unforgotten), Patsy Ferran (Jamestown), Karen Bryson (MotherFatherSon) and newcomer Dipika Kunwar.

The first-look trailer for BBC1's 'Black Narcissus'

The first-look trailer for Black Narcissus sees Sister Clodagh being told that she may not be ready to visit the "wild place," the palace of Mopu in the Himlayas. As she struggles to battle temptation, she is seen shaving her head and burning her hand on a candle.

'Black Narcissus' on BBC1: what else do we know?  

The story has been adapted by BAFTA-award-winning writer Amanda Coe (The Trial Of Christine Keeler, Apple Tree Yard). Coe says, "Black Narcissus is a truly extraordinary love story, as well as a brilliantly unsettling piece of 20th century gothic about the power of a place to get under your skin and the dangers of refusing to learn from history." The three-part series is directed by first-time director Charlotte Bruus Christensen, who has worked as Director of Photography on movies including The Girl On The Train and A Quiet Place.  

Has the story of 'Black Narcissus' been adapted on screen before? 

Black Narcissus (1947 film)

Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh in 1947 movie Black Narcissus (Image credit: Alamy)

Yes, in 1947 the story was first adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Deborah Kerr (The King and I) in the role of Sister Clodagh. It was produced, and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and other stars included Sabu (The Jungle Book, Arabian Nights), Jean Simmons (Spartacus), Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Dame Flora Robson (Oliver!) and Esmond Knight.

When will 'Black Narcissus' be shown on BBC1 and BBCiplayer? 

The series began filming in October 2019 and it’s likely to be shown on BBC1 and BBCiPlayer before the end of 2020, but the exact start date has yet to be confirmed. It should be available on BBC America next year. It’s a three-parter and each episode is 60 minutes long. 

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.