I grew up believing Jean Harlow died of renal failure in 1937 because her Christian Science mother wouldn’t allow her have a blood transfusion. That story was subsequently debunked. A few years ago, I reviewed the Emma Thompson film The Children Act on these pages. It dealt with a boy who refuses to have a transfusion because of his religious principles.
The most recent film I saw on this theme was the British release Apostasy. It explores it from the angle of an 18-year-old girl who’s anaemic. She refuses a transfusion and thereby endangers her life.
It’s an uncompromising treatment of the heartbreak experienced by her older sister who’s just become pregnant outside marriage and has become ‘dismembered’ from the Jehovah’s Witness congregation as a result.
Her mother adheres to its stern dictates, which causes a rift in the family. Will she be reinstated? Will her baby be brought up as a Witness? Does the fundamentalism of the congregation go too far?
It’s the debut feature of Daniel Kokotajlo, a former Jehovah’s Witness himself. It can be bought from Amazon or Alibris, the two sites I mainly use for film purchases. Prices vary but if you shop around you can generally find them at affordable prices.
You can also buy classic religious films from the past on these sites. You ‘ve probably seen the more well-known ones. Even if you have they’re worth a second view.
The Song of Bernadette (1943) is the story of Bernadette Soubirous, the French girl who wasn’t first believed when she told locals in her village of her vision of Our Lady at a grotto in Lourdes in 1858. Jennifer jones was captivating in the role and won an Oscar for it.
Going My Way is the ever-popular story of an easy-going priest (Bing Crosby) who softens his aging superior (Barry Fitzgerald) and some rough-around-the-edges street children. It won the Best Picture Award of 1944 and also scooped Oscars for Crosby, Fitzgerald and its director, Leo McCarey. Crosby reprised his role in the following year’s The Bells of St Mary’s.
The Nun’s Story (1959) is the famous Audrey Hepburn film about a nun who serves in the Belgian Congo before eventually leaving the cloistered life. When I interviewed her in the 1980s, she told me it was her favourite film. She’s more usually associated with Roman Holiday or My Fair Lady but the spiritual crisis her character underwent here resonated with her more than any other film she made in her career.
“At that time it was unusual for Hollywood to make a film about a nun who renounces her vows,” she said to me, “but it was so emotional they felt it would strike a chord with the public.”
Time proved them right. It was one of her most successful films at the box office and won eight Oscar nominations. You were with her on her journey right to the end, painful and all as it was.