Adapted from Rumer Godden's novel, five nuns start a school and clinic in the Himalaya mountains and have difficulty relating with the people.
In a Calcutta convent Mother Dorothea (Nancy Roberts) puts Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) in charge of a convent in the Himalaya mountains. The Old General tells Angu Ayah (May Hallatt) that he has invited nuns to start a school and a hospital. Dorothea gives Clodagh the Sisters Phillippa (Flora Robson), Briony (Judith Furse), Honey (Jenny Laird), and Ruth (Kathleen Byron). Children come to the school and are taught language by the boy Joseph (Eddie Whaley Jr.). Clodagh meets the skeptical Mr. Dean (David Farrar). She says the Old General is paying people to come to them.
Ruth treats a bleeding woman, and Dean thanks her. Dean brings the 17-year-old orphan Kanchi (Jean Simmons). As she prays, Clodagh remembers fishing and fox hunting. The Young General (Sabu) arrives on a horse and tells Clodagh he wants to study. He waits in a room with Kanchi. Clodagh tells Dean that the holy man is on their land. Dean says that he knows English but does not speak. The Young General studies. Clodagh recalls receiving a necklace from her grandmother.
Sisters sing Christmas carols, and the Young General and Dean join them. Clodagh reproaches Dean for being drunk. Clodagh asks Ruth to see a doctor. Ruth feels that she is not wanted there. Clodagh says that Dean is not a good man. Ruth gets a package in the mail. Angu Ayah whips Kanchi for stealing a bronze chain. The Young General protects her, and she embraces him. Clodagh asks Phillippa why they are growing flowers instead of vegetables. Phillippa asks Clodagh for a transfer because she is too attached to the place. Joseph says no one is coming because a child died after taking medicine there. Angu Ayah says that Kanchi ran off with the Young General. Clodagh rings the bell. Dean comes and says he drank the castor oil to prove it was not poison. Clodagh tells Dean that she loved a boy who went to America. She says that Phillippa is leaving, and Ruth is not renewing her vows. Dean says they should all leave.
Ruth is ready to go and puts on lipstick. Clodagh asks her to wait until morning. As Clodagh dozes, Ruth walks out. The nuns look for her. Ruth goes to Dean's house and says she loves him. He says to forget it and tells her to go to Darjeeling or go back. Ruth faints. When she wakes, she says she will leave. Clodagh prays and rings the bell. Ruth tries to push Clodagh off the precipice, but after a struggle Ruth falls to her death.
The Young General tells Clodagh that he is sorry. Clodagh is leaving and tells Dean she is being demoted. She asks him to look after the place.
This drama reflects the great cultural differences between
India and the British who occupied the country for so long. The
sisters spiritual service seems inhibited by their inner temptations
while the holy sage is silent and unappreciated by them.