Novitiate (film)

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Novitiate film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMaggie Betts
Produced by
Written byMaggie Betts
Music byChristopher Stark
CinematographyKat Westergaard
Edited bySusan E. Morse
Distributed bySony Pictures Classics
Release date
  • January 20, 2017 (2017-01-20) (Sundance)
  • October 27, 2017 (2017-10-27) (United States)
Running time
123 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$580,346 (North America)[2]

Novitiate is a 2017 American drama film written and directed by Maggie Betts, in her feature directorial debut. Starring Margaret Qualley, Melissa Leo, Morgan Saylor, Dianna Agron, Julianne Nicholson, Liana Liberato, Denis O'Hare, and Maddie Hasson, the film follows a young woman (Qualley) who starts to question her faith as she trains to become a nun.


Cathleen grows up in an unstable family in 1950s rural Tennessee; after being exposed to a Catholic girls' school and watching her mother, Nora's, life falling apart she becomes increasingly religious herself and decides to join a convent when she is seventeen. At the Sisters of the Beloved Rose convent she is under the control of the Mother Superior, who is cold and traditional. She imposes strict punishments on the young postulants spending their first months at the convent; comparatively, the nun overseeing the postulants' direct education, Sister Mary Grace, is warm and progressive, allowing them frivolity. However, Cathleen chooses to spend free time studying the Bible rather than spend time with the other girls.

When the Catholic Church is transitioning to Vatican II in this period, Mother Superior ignores the letters from the Archbishop requesting the implementation of the more liberal practices; Sister Mary Grace finds the notice and challenges the Mother Superior, but is ignored and leaves the convent. Cathleen completes her tenure as a postulant and becomes a novice, taking her Simple Vows. Soon, though, she starts to feel sexual desire, and becomes more reclusive and stops eating as self-punishment. Nora visits to tell Cathleen of her father's death and notices that she looks ill; Nora threatens the Mother Superior, who tells her that Cathleen is devoted to God and no longer her daughter. Cathleen soon collapses from her malnutrition and ends up in the infirmary, finding a confidante in Sister Emanuel there; the two young nuns grow closer until they have sexual intercourse, and Cathleen's health improves.

The Archbishop has been informed that the Mother Superior is continuing with the traditional practices, and comes to the convent to force her to implement Vatican II. The Mother Superior questions her relationship with God and becomes more passive towards the novices. At a chapter of faults, Cathleen confesses her desires and sexual activity, but does not name Sister Emanuel, who still ignores her. The Mother Superior finally accepts Vatican II, making the nuns' status equal to that of any Catholic. When Cathleen is called to take her vows and become a nun, she hesitates.



Novitiate is writer-director Maggie Betts's feature film directorial debut; her last projects were the 2010 documentary The Carrier, and the 2014 short Engram.[3] In December 2015, it was announced that Melissa Leo, Dianna Agron, and Margaret Qualley had been cast in lead roles in the period drama film Novitiate, which would begin filming in January in Nashville, Tennessee.[4] Kat Westergaard was hired as the director of photography.[5] Novitiate marked the film scoring debut for composer Christopher Stark, who is an assistant professor of music at Washington University as of 2017. According to Stark, he had "about a week" to compose the score, the process of which "happen[ed] really fast".[6]


The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2017.[7] Shortly after, Sony Pictures Classics acquired U.S distribution rights to the film.[8] It was released on October 27, 2017.[9] It was released in Canada on November 3rd, 2017. [10] Over ten weeks, the film grossed $580,346 at 163 North American theaters.[2]


Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film is certified fresh with a score of 86% based on 101 reviews, and an average rating of 7.2/10. The website's consensus reads, "Led by a gripping performance from Melissa Leo, Novitiate grapples uncompromisingly – and ultimately compellingly – with questions of faith and feminism."[11] On Metacritic, it has an average score of 73/100 based on 30 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[12]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result
AARP Movies for Grownups Awards 2020 Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo Nominated
Black Reel Awards February 23, 2018 Outstanding Director, Motion Picture Maggie Betts Nominated
Outstanding Screenplay, Motion Picture Nominated
Outstanding First Screenplay Won
Outstanding Emerging Filmmaker Nominated
Camerimage 2017 Best Directorial Debut Nominated
Capri 2017 Capri Supporting Actress Award Melissa Leo Won
Detroit Film Critics Society Awards 2017 Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo Nominated
Gotham Awards November 27, 2017 Audience Award Novitiate Nominated
Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award Maggie Betts Nominated
Guadalajara International Film Festival 2018 Best Feature Film Novitiate Nominated
Hamptons International Film Festival 2017 Tangerine Entertainment Juice Award Maggie Betts Won
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo Nominated
Satellite Awards February 11, 2018 Best Actress in a Supporting Role Nominated
Sundance Film Festival January 23 to February 2, 2020 Special Jury Prize - Dramatic Maggie Betts Won
Grand Jury Prize Novitiate Nominated
Women's Image Network Awards 2018 Outstanding Feature Film Won
Outstanding Actress Feature Film Melissa Leo Nominated


  1. ^ Lodge, Guy (January 20, 2017). "Sundance Film Review: 'Novitiate'". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Novitiate (2017)". Box Office Mojo. Amazon. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  3. ^ Felperin, Leslie (January 21, 2017). "Novitiate: Film Review: Sundance 2017". The Hollywood Reporter. Eldridge Industries. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  4. ^ Setoodeh, Ramin (December 4, 2015). "Melissa Leo, Dianna Agron to Star in Nun Drama 'Novitiate'". Variety. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  5. ^ Ridley, Jim (January 29, 2016). "Cool Cast and Crew, Mostly Women, Spark Interest in Indie Novitiate Shooting Here". Nashville Scene. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  6. ^ Wilson, Calvin (July 27, 2017). "2017 Rising Stars: Composer Christopher Stark writes his first score for upcoming 'Novitiate'". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Archived from the original on February 20, 2018. Retrieved February 20, 2018.
  7. ^ "Novitate". Sundance Film Festival. Retrieved January 22, 2017.
  8. ^ Fleming Jr, Mike (January 22, 2017). "Sony Pictures Classics At Altar With 'Novitiate:' Sundance". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 22, 2017.
  9. ^ Kenigsberg, Ben (September 8, 2017). "Fall 2017 Movie Release Schedule". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Novitiate (2017)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
  12. ^ "Novitiate Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 17, 2018.

External links[edit]