The Nun's Story (film)

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The Nun's Story
Nun story.jpg
Original film poster
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Produced by Henry Blanke
Written by Robert Anderson
from the novel by Kathryn Hulme
Starring Audrey Hepburn
Peter Finch
Edith Evans
Peggy Ashcroft
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Franz Planer
Edited by Walter Thompson
Distributed by Warner Bros
Release date
  • July 18, 1959 (1959-07-18)
Running time
149 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3.5 million[1]
Box office $12,800,000[1]

The Nun's Story is a 1959 Warner Bros film directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch, Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft. Based upon the 1956 novel of the same title by Kathryn Hulme, the story tells of the life of Sister Luke (Hepburn), a young Belgian woman who decides to enter a convent and make the many sacrifices required by her choice. However, at the outset of World War II, she finds that she cannot remain neutral in the face of the abject evil of Hitler's Germany.

The book was based upon the life of Marie Louise Habets, a Belgian nurse who similarly spent time as a nun. The film follows the book fairly closely, although some critics believe the film shows sexual tension in the relationship between Dr. Fortunati (Peter Finch) and Sister Luke that is absent from the novel.

A major portion of the film takes place in the Belgian Congo, site of location shooting,[2] where Sister Luke assists Dr. Fortunati in surgical procedures at a mission hospital. The location was Yakusu, a center of missionary and medical activity in the Belgian Congo.[3]

Colleen Dewhurst made her feature film debut in the film.[4]


Gabrielle "Gaby" Van Der Mal (Audrey Hepburn), whose father Hubert (Dean Jagger) is a famous surgeon in Belgium, enters a convent of nursing sisters in the late 1920s in the hopes of eventually becoming a missionary nursing sister in the Belgian Congo. After assuming the name of Sister Luke and undergoing a postulancy and novitiate which foreshadow her future difficulties with the vow of obedience, she takes her first vows and is sent to a school of tropical medicine. After passing high in her class but not without some spiritual conflict, she discovers to her disappointment that she has been assigned to go not to the Congo but instead to a mental hospital, where she assists with the most difficult and violent cases. One of these patients, a particularly violent schizophrenic believing herself to be the Archangel Gabriel (Colleen Dewhurst), tricks her into opening the cell door in violation of the rules, and Sister Luke barely escapes from her to face the shame of her disobedience. Nevertheless she is eventually permitted to take her final vows and sent to the Congo. Once there she is disappointed to learn that she will not be nursing the natives, but instead will be the operating nurse for the white hospital. She develops a strained but professional relationship with the brilliant surgeon there, Dr. Fortunati (Peter Finch). Eventually, the strains of her work and spiritual struggle cause her to succumb to tuberculosis. Fortunati, not wanting to lose the ideal nurse that Sister Luke is and sympathetic with her desire to stay in the Congo, engineers an amazing cure for the TB, a condition which otherwise always requires being sent back to Europe.

Nevertheless, some time after Sister Luke's return to health and work, Fortunati is forced to send her back to Belgium as the only nurse qualified to accompany a VIP who has become mentally unstable. She spends an outwardly quiet but inwardly restless period of time at the motherhouse in Brussels before the superior general finally gives her a new assignment. Because it is clear that there is going to be a war, she cannot go back to the Congo, but instead becomes a surgical nurse at a local hospital. There Sister Luke's long struggle with obedience becomes impossible for her to sustain, as she is forced into repeated compromises to deal with the reality of the Nazi occupation, including the fact that they have killed her father. She asks for and with difficulty is granted a dispensation from her vows, and is last seen changing into lay garb and quietly leaving the convent by a back door.


This house on the nl (Sint-Annarei) in Bruges was a backdrop of the movie


It was nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Actress in a Leading Role (Audrey Hepburn), Best Cinematography, Color, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Picture, Best Sound (George Groves) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.[5]

The Nun's Story was a major box office success in its day. Produced on a budget of $3.5 million, it grossed $12.8 million at the domestic box office,[1] earning $6.3 million in US theatrical rentals.[6] The Nun's Story was considered, for a time, to be the most financially successful of Hepburn's films and the one the actress often cited as her favourite. Hepburn met Marie-Louise Habets while preparing for the role, and Habets later helped nurse Hepburn back to health following her near-fatal horse-riding accident on the set of the 1960 film, The Unforgiven.

The Nun's Story received its first official North American DVD release on April 4, 2006. The story behind the book and film was the subject of The Belgian Nurse, a radio play by Zoe Fairbairns, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on January 13, 2007.


  1. ^ a b c Box Office Information for The Nun's Story. The Numbers. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  2. ^ "The Nun's Story (1959)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Wellcome Library for the History of Medicine & Understanding". Leprosy History. Retrieved 2011-10-25. 
  4. ^ "The Nun's Story (1959) - Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  5. ^ "The 32nd Academy Awards (1960) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  6. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, January 6, 1960 p 34.

External links