No Greater Love

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The Independent Culture

Ten years in preparation, this thoughtful documentary examines the life of a closed order of Carmelite nuns at the Most Holy Trinity monastery, in Notting Hill, London.

The director Michael Whyte, granted access to this cloistered world, captures something of its severe self-discipline – silence is observed for most of the daily round of prayer and contemplation – but also its strange merriment, as the nuns go about their work (gardening, laundering, cooking) and talk on camera about their vocation. Their honesty is sometimes poignant, and humbling – one sister talks of a period of doubt that lasted 18 years; another describes her own torments of the soul as "darkness, boredom, dryness, deadness". It absolutely discredits the idea of a nunnery as an escape from reality, for these women are obliged to face their own self all day, every day: what could be more "real" than that? Whyte captures moments of stillness and tranquillity that recall Dutch domestic painting of the 17th century – the Vermeer-like angle of light as a nun stands at a window – while suggesting the extraordinariness of such a place's survival, and in such an area: Notting Hill has never seemed so quiet. The film demands a measure of patience from the viewer, and repays it tenfold. It should also claw back a little self-respect for a faith at a low ebb in its history.