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The Nun's Story (1959)

Not Rated | | Drama | 18 July 1959 (USA)
After leaving a wealthy Belgian family to become a nun, Sister Luke struggles with her devotion to her vows during crisis, disappointment, and World War II.



(screenplay), (book) (as Kathryn C. Hulme)

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Nominated for 8 Oscars. Another 11 wins & 15 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Rev. Mother Emmanuel (Belgium) (as Dame Edith Evans)
Mother Mathilde (Africa) (as Dame Peggy Ashcroft)
Dr. Van Der Mal
Sister Margharita (Mistress of Postulants)
Mother Christophe (Sanatorium)
Patricia Collinge ...
Sister William (convent teacher)
Sister Eleanor
Mother Marcella (School of Medicine)
Mother Didyma (War-time Hospital)
Sister Pauline (medical student)
Patricia Bosworth ...
Simone (postulant who changed her mind)
Stephen Murray ...
Chaplain (Father Andre)

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In 1930, in Belgium, Gabrielle van der Mal is the stubborn daughter of the prominent surgeon Dr. Pascin Van Der Mal that decides to leave her the upper-class family to enter to a convent, expecting to work as nun in Congo with tropical diseases. She says good-bye to her sisters Louise and Marie; to her brother Pierre; and to her beloved father, and subjects herself to the stringent rules of the retrograde institution, including interior silent and excessive humbleness and humiliation. After a long period working in a mental institution, Gaby is finally assigned to go to Congo, where she works with the Atheist and cynical, but brilliant, Dr. Fortunati. Sister Luke proves to be very efficient nurse and assistant, and Dr. Fortunati miraculous heals her tuberculosis. Years later, she is ordered to return to Belgium and when her motherland is invaded by the Germans, she learns that her beloved father was murdered by the enemy while he was helping wounded members of the resistance. Sister ... Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

congo | nun | belgium | convent | nurse | See All (59) »


The most gripping and dramatic personal story of this decade is on the screen! See more »




Not Rated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

18 July 1959 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Historia de una monja  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$3,500,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)



Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?


Audrey Hepburn met the real Marie-Louise Habets - inspiration for the novel and film - while she was preparing for the role. The two actually became great friends and Habets later nursed Hepburn back to health after her near-fatal horse-riding accident on the set of The Unforgiven (1960). See more »


When the patient in the Congo hospital is being attended by several people, the voice of the actor playing the patient is obviously dubbed over by actor Dean Jagger, who plays Sister Luke's father in the film. See more »


[first lines]
Narrator: "He that shall lose his life for me shall find it. If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and come follow me." Each sister shall understand that on entering the convent, she has made the sacrifice of her life to God.
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Referenced in Punky Brewster: The Nun's Story (1988) See more »


Voi Che Sapete
from "The Marriage of Figaro"
Written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (as W. A. Mozart)
Played by Gabi and her father on the piano, and recurring throughout the film's score.
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A fascinating film with wonderful touching moments…

Poverty, Charity, and Obedience are extremely difficult... Detachment from family and friends is difficult... Detachment from things and memories is much more difficult...

Silence, detachment and mortification are the conditions of prayer and the negative aspect of a nun's spirituality, while prayer and union with God are its positive aspects... To be firm, prayer must be built on profound humility...

Gabrielle Van der Mal is a morally powerful girl who wants from all her heart to be obedient to the bells of the congregation... She perfectly knows that her personal wishes come to an end when she enters that door... Her loving father remembers her: 'If you ever decide this is not right for you, there's no sense of failure coming back home.'

The film's first part focuses on the making of a Catholic nun as it follows the young Belgian girl, from the time she takes leave of her dispirited father to enter the rigorous Roman Catholic order, until her appearance as an experienced nursing nun, hopeful of following the medical vocation of her famous surgeon father...

The story then moves to the Congo where God selects his moment to offer the most perfect alliance with each individual soul... Gabrielle, now known as Sister Luke, assists as server of Dr. Fortunati, 'a genius, a devil and a non-believer,' who takes pleasure in noting Sister Luke's minor infractions of her vows that would require confession...

It's clear that the process of becoming an exemplary nun is a lot harder than any woman can hope for... Sister Luke is supposed to make the love of God the motive of all her actions... She seems to fail in her Vows of Poverty, Charity and Obedience... Pride is not being burned out of her... The more she attempts, the more imperfect she becomes...

"The Nun's Story" is a fascinating film with wonderful touching moments but also with traumatic scenes in a mental institution... The dark side of the Congo is seen through the eyes of a priest, when Sister Luke visited a leper colony...

The performances are extraordinary... It's visually beautiful, and after a very slow start, the film builds quickly to a very powerful ending... The last shot is the only instance of a Warner Brothers film not to have music over its end-title...

The film garnered eight Academy Award nominations, one for its big star Audrey Hepburn...

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