Agnes of God (1985)

PG-13 | 98 mins | Drama | 13 September 1985

Director:

Norman Jewison

Writer:

John Pielmeier

Cinematographer:

Sven Nykvist

Editor:

Antony Gibbs

Production Designer:

Ken Adam

Production Companies:

Columbia Pictures, Delphi IV Productions
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HISTORY

On 1 Sep 1983, HR stated that actress Anne Bancroft had interest in developing a feature film from John Pielmeier’s 1982 Broadway play, Agnes of God, which had won a Tony Award that year for Amanda Plummer’s portrayal of the title role. Several months later, a 9 Dec 1983 HR article announced that Columbia Pictures had purchased the screen rights and Norman Jewison was hired to produce the project from an adaptation by Pielmeier. Agnes of God was set to mark Jewison’s second production under a seven-picture deal with Columbia, which was established in Mar 1982; his first release under the Columbia contract was A Soldier’s Story (1984, see entry). According to HR, Jewison’s agreement with Columbia stipulated that three of the seven pictures would be filmed in Canada, and one of the three would also be directed by Jewison, who was born in Toronto. Although Agnes of God was scheduled for production in Canada, Jewison had not yet confirmed his role as the film’s director. Jewison’s partner, Patrick Palmer, was listed as co-producer and the budget was approximated at $10 million.
       As noted in the 14 Dec 1983 Var, Paramount Pictures financed $150,000 of the Broadway play’s $600,000 budget, but the studio declined the opportunity to acquire film rights just after the play’s 30 Mar 1982 opening. Var also reported that Amanda Plummer and Geraldine Page would likely be cast in the Columbia film, repeating their stage roles as “Sister Agnes” and “Mother Miriam Ruth,” respectively. At that time, Jane ... More Less

On 1 Sep 1983, HR stated that actress Anne Bancroft had interest in developing a feature film from John Pielmeier’s 1982 Broadway play, Agnes of God, which had won a Tony Award that year for Amanda Plummer’s portrayal of the title role. Several months later, a 9 Dec 1983 HR article announced that Columbia Pictures had purchased the screen rights and Norman Jewison was hired to produce the project from an adaptation by Pielmeier. Agnes of God was set to mark Jewison’s second production under a seven-picture deal with Columbia, which was established in Mar 1982; his first release under the Columbia contract was A Soldier’s Story (1984, see entry). According to HR, Jewison’s agreement with Columbia stipulated that three of the seven pictures would be filmed in Canada, and one of the three would also be directed by Jewison, who was born in Toronto. Although Agnes of God was scheduled for production in Canada, Jewison had not yet confirmed his role as the film’s director. Jewison’s partner, Patrick Palmer, was listed as co-producer and the budget was approximated at $10 million.
       As noted in the 14 Dec 1983 Var, Paramount Pictures financed $150,000 of the Broadway play’s $600,000 budget, but the studio declined the opportunity to acquire film rights just after the play’s 30 Mar 1982 opening. Var also reported that Amanda Plummer and Geraldine Page would likely be cast in the Columbia film, repeating their stage roles as “Sister Agnes” and “Mother Miriam Ruth,” respectively. At that time, Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, and Anne Bancroft were being considered for the role of psychiatrist “Doctor Martha Livingston,” who had been portrayed by Lee Remick during a “tryout run” in Boston, MA, and was replaced on Broadway by Elizabeth Ashley. Pielmeier’s screenplay was reportedly due Mar 1984. Since the play was written with just three cast members, and a bare stage, Jewison and Pielmeier started meeting in Dec 1983 to develop the drama visually, so that it would appeal to a wider audience, according to production notes in AMPAS library files. An 18 Apr 1984 Var brief reported that Pielmeier’s adaptation was nearly finished.
       According to a 31 Aug 1984 LAT news item, Francis Ford Coppola had recently approached Columbia with interest in directing the picture, and Jane Fonda had given an “encouraging response” to the studio at being asked to play “one of the female leads.” On 21 Sep 1984, DV announced that Fonda had been officially cast as Doctor Martha Livingston, and Jewison had decided to direct the picture, himself. As a result, Jewison stepped down from his directorial role on Jazz Babies, another project he was developing for Columbia at that time, which was expected to start production in Feb 1985 but never materialized. In addition, Jewison’s work on Columbia’s intended remake of H. G. Wells’s The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1937, see entry) was put on hold, and was eventually postponed indefinitely when actor Richard Pryor dropped out, according to a 2 Sep 1986 Victoria, TX, Advocate column. The 21 Sep 1984 DV also announced that principal photography for Agnes of God was scheduled to begin six weeks later in Ontario and Montreal, Canada; Jewison and Palmer were already in Canada as of late Sep 1984. A 21 Sep 1984 LAT brief listed a start date of 22 Oct 1984 and noted that Jewison decided to direct when Coppola asked for a salary of $3 million. Although Coppola reportedly dropped his rate to $1.5 million, Columbia determined that his price was too steep for the production, which was intended to be “modestly budgeted and small-scale.”
       While a 3 Oct 1984 Var brief noted that Amanda Plummer and Geraldine Page were still being considered to repeat their stage roles, an 8 Oct 1984 DV article announced that Anne Bancroft had been cast as Mother Miriam Ruth, and the role of Agnes was not yet filled. However, rehearsals for the picture, now budgeted at $7.5 million, were scheduled to begin in two days, on 10 Oct 1984, in Los Angeles, CA. That day, DV announced that Meg Tilly had been cast as Agnes. According to a 17 Oct 1985 LAT article, Tilly telephoned Jewison personally after reading about Columbia’s production in Var, even though she had not seen the stage version. Tilly was persistent, and waited three months to get through to Jewison, who was initially disinterested in her, and another nine months to perform a screen test.
       The 8 Oct 1984 DV also reported that principal photography had been pushed back one week to 29 Oct 1984, starting in Montreal instead of Ontario, and that two weeks of filming in Montreal would be followed by seven weeks in Toronto; however, production notes confirmed that production began 27 Oct 1984. Montreal locations included the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, the Montreal Archives at Mount Royal, the Hôtel de Ville de Montréal, the Ministère des Affaires culturelles, and the Grande Bibliothèque. Filming moved to Rockwood, Ontario, the week of 12 Nov 1984 to shoot convent scenes at the historic Rockwood Academy, which was built in 1850 as a boys school but was being restored at the time by artist Yosef Drenters, who lived in the building with his family. A 9 Jan 1985 Var news item announced that the production moved to Kleinburg Studios near Toronto on 7 Jan 1985 after a two-week Christmas break. The picture’s final scene at a courtroom was filmed at Old City Hall in Toronto on 19 Jan 1985, the last day of principal photography.
       A 25 Jun 1985 DV brief reported that Columbia was “moving up” the film’s opening date to 23 Aug 1985 in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, IL, and Montreal, so the picture could be included it in the studio’s summer offerings. General release was planned for one month later, on 20 Sep 1985. However, a 28 Aug 1985 Var news item announced that the opening would be delayed to 13 Sep 1985. Agnes of God made its world premiere as the opening event screening of the World Film Festival in Montreal, on 21 Aug 1985, with Jewison, Fonda, Bancroft, and Tilly in attendance.
       The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in the following categories: Actress in a Leading Role (Anne Bancroft), Actress in a Supporting Role (Meg Tilly), and Music (Original Score).
       End credits include the following acknowledgements: "Spiderman and His Amazing Friends" ©1981 Marvel Productions, Ltd., Used with permission," and, “The producers wish to thank: Ontario Heritage Foundation, Ontario Film & Video Office, Rockwood Academy, Toronto Film Office, New Wave Travel, Film Commission of Montreal, CFCF Television, Natural Furs of Canada, Inc., Benson & Hedges (Canada) Inc., The Elmer Iseler Singers." Also included is: “With very special thanks to: Letizia Adam, Gloria Demers, Heather and Andreas Drenters, Jeannine Edmunds, Father Charles S. Pottie, S.J., Father David Elsey, S.T., Father Marc Gervais, S.J., Mother Mary Dominic, Sister Pierette, Sister Rolande, Rachael Pfeffer-Lapidese, Larry Palef, Roger Sherman, Esq., Daniel Tremblay, Margaret Wescott.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
9 Dec 1983.
---
Daily Variety
21 Sep 1984.
---
Daily Variety
8 Oct 1984
p. 1, 10.
Daily Variety
10 Oct 1984.
---
Daily Variety
25 Jun 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Aug 1985
p. 3, 18.
Los Angeles Times
31 Aug 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Sep 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 Sep 1985
Calendar, p. 1, 10.
Los Angeles Times
17 Oct 1985
Section H, p. 1, 7.
New York Times
13 Sep 1985
Sec C, p. 12.
Variety
14 Dec 1983.
---
Variety
18 Apr 1984.
---
Variety
3 Oct 1984.
---
Variety
9 Jan 1985.
---
Variety
21 Aug 1985
p. 16.
Variety
28 Aug 1985.
---
Victoria Advocate
2 Sep 1986
Section A, p. 11.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Columbia Pictures presents
A Norman Jewison Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
D.G.C. observer
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Steadicam op
Still photog
Still photog
Best boy
Key grip
2d grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Const des coord
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Assoc film ed
1st asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dresser
Set dresser
Prop master
Asst prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost
Asst cost
MUSIC
Mus scoring mixer
Supv mus ed
Supv mus ed
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec blood eff
of Theatre Magic
Spec blood eff
of Theatre Magic
Spec blood eff
Main title des
MAKEUP
Makeup artist for Ms. Fonda
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod on the New York stage by
Prod on the New York stage by
Prod on the New York stage by
Asst to the prods
Scr supv
Asst to Mr. Jewison
Asst to Mr. Jewison
Asst to Ms. Fonda
Asst to Ms. Bancroft
Prod office coord
Prod office coord
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Accounting clerk
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Casting asst
Local casting, Ontario
Local casting, Quebec
Loc mgr, Ontario
Loc mgr, Quebec
Loc mgr, Quebec
Unit pub
Transportation coord
Craft service
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Agnes of God by John Pielmeier (New York, 30 Mar 1982).
SONGS
"Kyrie," "In Paradisum," "Gloria Ambrosien," "Ave Regina Caelorum," courtesy of Musidisc, France
"Antiphon At Magnificat," courtesy of Abbey Recording, Co., Ltd., Oxford.
DETAILS
Release Date:
13 September 1985
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 13 September 1985
Production Date:
27 October 1984--19 January 1985 in Montreal, Rockwood, Ontario, and Toronto, Canada
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Copyright Date:
25 October 1985
Copyright Number:
PA266701
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Color by Metrocolor®
Duration(in mins):
98
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27772
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At a rural Canadian convent of Les Petites Soeurs de Marie Madeline, screams awaken the resident nuns, who discover their young novice, Sister Agnes, covered in blood. As Agnes is rushed to the hospital, Mother Miriam Ruth uncovers a strangled infant inside the young woman’s wastepaper basket. Sometime later in Montreal, Quebec, psychiatrist Doctor Martha Livingston arrives at city hall as Agnes, Mother Miriam, and another nun leave the courthouse, pursued by television reporters. Inside, court justices ask Martha to examine Agnes and diagnose her insane, so the nun will not be found guilty of manslaughter, and Martha reluctantly takes the case. At the convent, Martha meets with Mother Miriam, who lights the doctor’s cigarette and confesses to being a former smoker. Mother Miriam explains that Agnes’s pregnancy was a mystery to the nuns, and Agnes had contact with only one man, Father Martineau, an elderly gentleman incapable of procreation. Noting her lack of faith in psychiatry, and her desire to protect Agnes’s innocence, Mother Miriam walks away. Martha visits Agnes in her quarters, where the girl sings in religious ecstasy. Agnes remembers being sick the night of the birth, but insists that the other nuns invented the story of the baby. Tired of answering questions, Agnes intends to leave, but returns when Martha offers to be the subject of inquiry. Responding to Agnes’s questions, Martha admits that she can no longer have children due to menopause, and that she is obsessed with smoking cigarettes. Agnes tells the doctor that “good babies” are conceived when angels whisper in a mother’s ear, while “bad babies” are born from rape. She ... +


At a rural Canadian convent of Les Petites Soeurs de Marie Madeline, screams awaken the resident nuns, who discover their young novice, Sister Agnes, covered in blood. As Agnes is rushed to the hospital, Mother Miriam Ruth uncovers a strangled infant inside the young woman’s wastepaper basket. Sometime later in Montreal, Quebec, psychiatrist Doctor Martha Livingston arrives at city hall as Agnes, Mother Miriam, and another nun leave the courthouse, pursued by television reporters. Inside, court justices ask Martha to examine Agnes and diagnose her insane, so the nun will not be found guilty of manslaughter, and Martha reluctantly takes the case. At the convent, Martha meets with Mother Miriam, who lights the doctor’s cigarette and confesses to being a former smoker. Mother Miriam explains that Agnes’s pregnancy was a mystery to the nuns, and Agnes had contact with only one man, Father Martineau, an elderly gentleman incapable of procreation. Noting her lack of faith in psychiatry, and her desire to protect Agnes’s innocence, Mother Miriam walks away. Martha visits Agnes in her quarters, where the girl sings in religious ecstasy. Agnes remembers being sick the night of the birth, but insists that the other nuns invented the story of the baby. Tired of answering questions, Agnes intends to leave, but returns when Martha offers to be the subject of inquiry. Responding to Agnes’s questions, Martha admits that she can no longer have children due to menopause, and that she is obsessed with smoking cigarettes. Agnes tells the doctor that “good babies” are conceived when angels whisper in a mother’s ear, while “bad babies” are born from rape. She says it is hard to tell the difference between the two kinds of babies, except that the bad ones cry, make their fathers go away, and create illnesses for their mothers. Agnes confides that her deceased mother still haunts her, but another kindly spirit, “Marie,” manifests herself through Agnes’s singing voice. Later, Mother Miriam explains Agnes’s naivete, telling Martha that the girl was denied contact with the outside world since birth and has lived in the convent since her mother’s death. Mother Miriam argues that Agnes could not have consciously killed the infant, but also maintains that no other nun in the convent is responsible. On her way back to Montreal, Martha brings ice cream to her mother, who is a patient at a nursing home. Suffering from dementia, the old woman confuses Martha for her deceased sister, Marie, who was a nun, and complains that Martha is going to hell because she had an abortion. Later, at the convent, Mother Miriam recalls that Agnes refused to eat several years earlier, and that she had bled spontaneously from a hole in her hand. Outraged that Agnes was not medically treated, Martha realizes that Mother Miriam fears modern science will tarnish Agnes’s immaculate conception of God. Sometime later, Agnes prays at the grave of Sister Marie Paul, an elderly nun who died ten months earlier. Agnes tells Martha that Marie showed her a “secret place,” at the top of a bell tower. After guiding Martha up the tower stairs, Agnes says that her mother locked her away from the world because she had a premonition of Agnes’s pregnancy. When Martha asks the girl how she became pregnant, Agnes fears the doctor’s inquiry will destroy her religious faith and runs away. Back at the convent, Mother Miriam accuses Martha of being prejudiced against Catholicism. Mother Miriam confesses that she was once married with children, who now disown her, but Martha is unmoved. The doctor contends that Mother Miriam can protect Agnes only by helping prove the girl’s legal innocence, thereby forcing an acquittal. Mother Miriam then remembers the evening Agnes conceived; Sister Marie Paul died that night, and Agnes burned her blood stained bed sheets, but reported that she was not menstruating. Sometime later, Agnes tells Martha that she deserved her mother’s emotional and sexual abuse, but Martha encourages her to think otherwise and declares her love for the girl. Back inside the convent, a nun secretly advises Martha to check the archives. There, the psychiatrist digs through personal records to learn that Agnes is Sister Miriam’s niece. When the Mother Superior catches Martha in the vault, she admits that her sister was a troubled alcoholic, but is horrified to discover that Agnes was abused. In Montreal, Martha asks her friend in the police department, Detective Larry Langevin, to look into the case, and he later uncovers information that was missing from the official report: Agnes’s chamber was the only room with a wastepaper basket. Suspecting conspiracy within the convent, Martha secures a court order to hypnotize Agnes, but Sister Miriam does not approve. As the two women argue, Martha admits that she has lost faith in Catholicism and Mother Miriam says her confidence in God was regained after hearing Agnes sing. When Martha says that Agnes’s voice reminds her of her sister, Marie, who died in a convent, Mother Superior accepts the doctor’s offer of a cigarette and the two ladies laugh, wondering if saints would have smoked. Reflecting that there are no saints or miracles in modern life, Mother Miriam consents to Agnes undergoing hypnotism, so long as she can be present. During hypnosis, Agnes visualizes the wastepaper basket and says the sisters fed her glass because they are jealous. When she sees another sister in the room and refuses to speak her name, Mother Miriam attempts to stop the treatment and Martha awakens Agnes from her trance. Martha later visits Canadian government archives and discovers that the convent has secret passageways. She explores a tunnel by candlelight and finds that it leads to a barn, where Agnes milks cows. Sometime later, Mother Miriam storms into Martha’s office and orders the doctor off the case, claiming the baby was a miracle. However, Martha convinces Justice Joseph Leveau to permit her one more day with Agnes. Back at the convent, Mother Miriam admits that she knew about the pregnancy, but swears she did not kill the baby. Martha hypnotizes Agnes again and asks about the night of conception. Agnes says that Sister Marie Paul, on her deathbed, uttered the name Michael, and Agnes interpreted her message to mean the archangel. Since Sister Marie had previously shown Agnes the secret tunnel, the girl followed the passageway to the barn, looking for the saint. The barn was filled with birds. As Agnes remembers, her palms begin to bleed, and she cries that she hates the man who corrupted her; however, when Martha demands to know the rapist’s name, Agnes replies, “God.” Agnes admits that Mother Miriam was with her during the birth, but the nun left her with the child. Agnes then strangled her baby with its umbilical cord and placed the body in the wastepaper basket that Mother Miriam had brought to the room, in anticipation of the birth. Sometime later, in court, Justice Joseph Leveau rules that Agnes is not responsible for her actions, and she can return to the convent unpunished. The girl stands and tells the court a mystical tale of a man who sang to her, spread his wings, and nestled on top of her. As she begins to repeat the man’s song, the judge orders her removal from the courtroom. Back at the convent, Agnes continues to sing from the bell tower. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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