Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Quiet as a Nun ( 1978 ) - Armchair Thriller

Armchair Thriller, a short-lived British television horror series of the 1970s, featured a number of genuinely creepy serials guaranteed to cover your skin with goosebumps. One of their best was Quiet as a Nun, a six-part serial that aired between April 18th and April 27th, 1978.

This episode centered around investigative TV reporter Jemima Shore, portrayed by the lovely Maria Aitken. Shore is an independent career woman who is having an affair with a married member of Parliament. She claims to be an agnostic and yet glimpses into her heart reveal that she still carries strong feelings for the convent school where she was educated as a girl. When she reads in the newspaper that Sister Miriam, a close friend from these school years, has passed away, she heads back to Blessed Eleanor's Convent in Sussex to attend the funeral. The nun's death was shrouded in mystery, her body being found in the secluded tower of the convent just days after she had announced her plan to change her will. Sister Miriam was an heiress who was to inherit one of the largest fortunes in Britain. 


"As a tower points towards heaven, so shall a man build his life in the direction of God. Yet even the highest tower can never reach the sky. Nevertheless, Man, by the grace of God and his own faith, may expect to reach heaven one day."
Mother Ancilla ( Renée Asherson ) is disturbed by her death, as is Jemima, and she asks the reporter to spend a few weeks holiday at the convent while quietly looking into the matter. After a second nun is mysteriously murdered, Jemima finds that not only has she been swept into a dark and sinister storm of fear but that other lives, as well as her own, may be in danger.

Quiet as a Nun was based upon the 1977 Antonia Fraser novel of the same name, a novel which P.D. James called "a judicious mixture of puzzle, excitement, and terror." The book played out like an adult version of one of Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew series, but Julia Jones' engrossing screen dramatization instead paralleled Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede which featured a similar business-minded female protagonist who broke off an adulterous relationship after a visit to a convent. 

Both the Quiet as a Nun book and the television series circled around the mysterious faceless "Black Nun" who haunts the hidden passages underneath the convent, a story plot which was well adapted for both children and adult tastes, even down to the Scooby-Doo-like conclusion. 

The serial was revived for British and US audiences in 1982 as a PBS Mystery! television presentation. The popularity of this episode led ITV to produce a spin-off series in 1983 entitled Jemima Shore Investigates, which starred the equally appealing Patricia Hodge as the slender sleuth. Unfortunately, the scripts were not nearly as well written nor was the filming as expressive as in Quiet as a Nun
The serial is ideal viewing for a rainy autumn afternoon, particularly during this week approaching Halloween. It encaptures all the features you would hope to find in a ripping good mystery: secret passages, shadowy figures, cobweb invested crypts, disappearances, kidnappings, and even the prerequisite reading of a will. 

Also in the cast is Brenda Bruce as Sister Elizabeth, Sylvia Coleridge as Sister Boniface, Susan Engel as Sister Agnes, Doran Goodwin, Patsy Kensit, David Burke, and James Laurenson.

Ready to view Quiet as a Nun? Simply click here to watch it on Youtube. 

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