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If I had never read the novel (and loved it), and if I had never lived the cloistered religious life (which I have), I would recommend this film without reserve.
My reservations are based on the following: Having lived in a cloister for over two years, I can tell you that, even in these post-Vatican II times, a postulant or novice would never be permitted to speak freely with another sister, especially an elder, without permission from her novice mistress. Recreations are not "free time", as depicted in the film; it is a daily get-together of the community as a whole, and it is encouraged that you converse in groups of at least three (you can talk to one other sister if you feel you have to, but certainly not for the whole recreation period). Also, silence being an essential and necessary aspect of contemplative monasticism, a sister, no matter what rank, would not sing out loud whenever and wherever she felt moved to do so, and especially not during work time. I could go on... but suffice it to say that this film is not an accurate depiction of cloistered life.
However, I do have positive feelings about this film. Even though it bears little resemblance in plot to the novel, it's still a good basic story in itself and is very well acted by an ensemble of wonderful actors. And, inaccurate of the life as it is, the film still evokes in me a nostalgic longing for the monastery, and I admit that I watch it for mainly that reason.
Oh, that the BBC would produce a mini-series of Godden's wonderful novel! That would be something to see. Godden was herself a Benedictine Oblate (lay persons connected by vows to a religious order), and her book is a loving and faithful tribute to Benedictine nuns everywhere.
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