Union Create Stunning Himalayan Backdrops for Black Narcissus
Based on the 1939 novel by Rumer Godden, Black Narcissus revolves around the growing tensions within the small convent of Anglican nuns as they try to establish a school and hospital in the old palace of an Indian Raja at the top of an isolated mountain above a fertile valley in the Himalayas. The palace has ancient Indian erotic paintings on its walls and is run by the agent of the Indian general who owns it, a handsome middle-aged Englishman who is a source of sexual attraction for the nuns.
As the story takes place in Nepal, the vast majority of Union’s work involved placing the sets and cast into beautiful Himalayan environments.
Principal photography took place on sets built at Pinewood and in Buckinghamshire, but Union Co-Founder Adam Gascoyne was part of a core crew who travelled to Nepal in late 2019 to capture these breathtaking surroundings on camera. They spent several weeks capturing plates, elements and timelapse from mountain locations as well as shooting some plates from a helicopter.
This provided the team with a great kit of parts to call upon when integrating the sets into the Nepali environments. The team then had to extend the environment from where the set ended.
The exteriors for the bungalow were shot in Nepal, but the Palace was built in Buckinghamshire along with half of the terrace and shot against 140ft of greenscreen.
Director Charlotte Bruus Christensen made the most of the stunning views so the environments created had to reflect the changing cloud formations, seasons and lighting presented by different times of day and night.
The palace itself nestles into the edge of a mountain and there are several vertigo-inducing moments that rely on the environments.
A section of the bell tower platform was also built at pinewood for the sunrise fight sequence featured in episode 3. Shot against 360 degrees of greenscreen there were no horizon anchors and the sun was rising throughout the sequence. The team had to recreate the impact of the changing lighting on an environment where it was approximately 10 miles to the horizon.
The interiors were mainly shot at pinewood with a lot of greenscreen work to provide the scenic views out of the palace windows.
Union Co-founder Adam Gascoyne comments: “We had the challenge and huge privilege to go to Nepal and try to capture the majesty of the Himalayas. We worked most days from long before sunrise to sunset to capture a truly incredible library of images to use when trying to recreate the backdrops for the sets back in London.
“We were very conscious of the amazing, award-winning work Jack Cardiff had done in the original movie and always had that at the back of our minds when composing and grading the shots.
“The 360 views from the palace had to represent the passage of time and we worked hard to recreate these seasonal changes using clouds, grading passes and snow covering.
“One of the hardest challenges was adapting our workflow and delivering 310 complex shots during the first Covid lockdown, but the team worked tirelessly under really difficult conditions to deliver these amazing shots. I’m so proud of all the team for what we achieved.”
Black Narcissus is produced by DNA TV in association with FX Productions for BBC One and the FX Networks.