review for The Nun's Story on AllMovie

The Nun's Story (1959)
by Craig Butler review

The Nun's Story is a moving, heartfelt drama, highlighted by an absolutely stunning central performance by the irreplaceable Audrey Hepburn. While some might quibble that a less "stellar" persona in the role might be truer to the original tale, the fact is that Nun has been conceived for the cinema in such a manner that a certain amount of star power is needed to hold the film together. Hepburn, of course, has no problem fitting that bill, but she does so much more than that, delivering some of the finest work of her esteemed career. She projects the inner turmoil of the character both subtly and overtly, but never in a manner that feels like "acting." More importantly, she realistically conveys both the character's strong pull to her faith and her resistance to the same, so that the viewer keeps guessing till the end which one will win out. It's a superb performance, aided by sensitive direction from Fred Zinnemann and a screenplay full of strong moments from Robert Anderson. Yet both Zinnemann and Anderson must also take some blame for the film's weaknesses, chief among them the fact the character's initial decision to go into the convent is never gone into. Modern audiences may also feel that the film shies away from examining the morality of some of the demands within the order, although audiences at the time of its release felt it was bold just to bring up the issue at all. Zinnemann occasionally lets the pace flag, but he presents some stunning visuals and is blessed with a lovely cast. (Watch for a powerful Colleen Dewhurst in the mental institution.) If Nun has its flaws, it's still affecting and stirring.