When Nora (Julianne Nicholson) out of the blue took her 8 year daughter Cathleen to church one Sunday, she told the inquiring Catholic Priest, it was simply because she wanted Cathleen to be able to make her up mind up on religion when she was old enough. However when the shy studious girl turns 17 and suddenly announces she wants to devote her life to God and join the local Nunnery, it wasn’t exactly what Nora had expected.
It’s the 1950’s in Middle America and after her husband had walked out, Nora had thrown herself energetically into single life and embarked on a series of boyfriends, which Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) throughly disapproved off. It wasn’t the main reason that Cathleen opted to become a Bride of Christ, but it certainly propelled her in that direction.
The Covent of The Blessed Rose, or The Roses as the inhabitants called themselves were ruled over with an iron rod by the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo). Cathleen felt right at home there and thew herself energetically into the life of a postulant with such religious fervor and happy to be cloistered away from the outside world. However she eventually started to question this all when several of the other young girls in her group were sent away for reasons that had nothing to do with their faith.
What she didn’t know then was that Pope John XXIII had ordered an enormous overhaul of how convents were to be run in the future laid out in the Second Vatican Council of 1962. As it greatly diminished her powers and instructed her to do away with some of the convent’s more questionable practices and the extreme self-discipline, the Reverend Mother refused to acknowledge the report, let alone adopt the new more humane doctrine.
When Sister Mary Grace (Dianna Agron) one of the senior nuns who had been teaching her left abruptly, Cathleen starts to realize that all is not right with Convent. However she soon had other reasons to question her faith and her own calling when her friendship with one of the other novitiates became intimate.
This movie from writer/director Maggie Betts is a compelling tale of self-doubt and self-sacrifice seen through the eyes of this teenage trainee nun played so pitch perfectly by Qualley . It is however Leo as the merciless unhinged zealot who steals all her scenes with her fiery temper tantrums when she realizes that for once in her life, she is no longer in control of anything. Nicholson is superb as Nora the mother who stands by her daughter who rejects her somewhat unnecessarily cruelly.
Kudos to cinematographer Kat Westergard for her dramatic lightening that made the convent look so unforbidding.