Director: Joseph Losey
Writer: George Tabori
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow, Robert Mitchum
Country: UK
Running Time:  109 minutes
Year: 1968
BBFC Certificate: 15

Secret Ceremony is a 1968 British thriller-drama with a star studded cast including Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum. This brooding film was originally released by Universal Pictures and is based on the book by Marco Denevi.

Fashionable Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor, National Velvet) coughs uncontrollably on a London bus when she meets Cenci (Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby). Strange Cenci stalks her to a richly adorned church and continues to follow Leonora to a grave. The two return to Cenci’s house, Cenci is delighted to have Leonora for company. Jubilant Cenci swings the large oak front door open with a flourish as they enter a richly decorated house. Within the house Leonora sees pictures of herself, Cenci clings to Leonora uttering the word “mummy”. This Leads Leonora to become angry demanding to know what Cenci wants of her.

Smartly dressed Leonora finds a display cabinet with some coins in it and steals one. Cenci returns to the room, removes Leonora’s coat and provides her with a rich breakfast, served on silver with fine china cups. Hungry, Leonora devourers the meal. After finishing the meal she incongruously burps. Relaxing, Leonora asks about the house with no recollection of it and Cenci talks to her as if she knows all about it. Leonora questions where daddy is, Cenci replies “You know damn well where daddy is”. Confusingly Leonora appears to be suddenly aware that it is her house, is she schizophrenic?

Becoming tired, Leonora takes a nap even though it is day time and falls asleep while a music box plays. After waking, Cenci and Leonora share a bath during which Cenci mentions drowning.On hearing this Leonora becomes upset. Cenci says “I’m so glad you’re back, may I get into bed with you”. Mysteriously, Cenci talks about a strange picture on the sideboard calling the man in the scene the Moon Dog. The pair say a prayer together and later Cenci is observed talking to herself in the kitchen. The layers of psychological tension build a brick at a time.

It takes effort to work out what’s going on in this sordid tale. Has everyone lost their memory? Did they know each other? Are they body snatchers or psychos? It transpires Cenci reminds Leonora of her dead daughter. Leonora is the spitting image of Cenci’s mother, which becomes the catalyst for the two of them to start their complex relationship.

As if these two don’t cause enough stress, the entrance of Albert (Robert Mitchum, The Night Of The Hunter) really sets nerves jangling. It is obvious from the start that Albert is not to be trusted. However as the story unfolds we are not sure who to believe. This question is only answered in the last few dark twists of this highly atmospheric drama.

Enemies and friends of Losey alike did not seem overly enamored with this film. One exclaiming the best thing about the film was the bathroom door. While his friend Dirk Bogarde preferred the poster to the film itself. Some fans of his work did like the film comparing it to the moving The Boy With The Green Hair (1948). Secret Ceremony wasn’t well received in the UK. However in America it did better and the French really enjoyed it, voting it best foreign film of the year.

This lost masterpiece with unnerving score and cinematography premier’s on Blu-ray in this production. Secret Ceremony is released on the 25 November 2019 in Limited Edition Blu-ray format. Boasting a fine selection of extras.


High Definition remaster.
Original mono audio.
Audio commentary with authors and critics Dean Brandum and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2019).
Archival Interview with Joseph Losey (1969, 15 mins): extract from the French television programme Cinéma critique, featuring the celebrated director promoting the release of Secret Ceremony and an appreciation by critic Michel Mourlet
The Beholder’s Share (2019, 25 mins): interview with Gavrik Losey, son of Joseph Losey.
TV version: additional scenes (1971, 18 mins): unique epilogue and prologue produced for US television screenings, with Robert Douglas and Michael Strong
Original theatrical trailer.
Larry Karaszewski trailer commentary (2015, 3 mins): short critical appreciation.
Image gallery: promotional and publicity material.
New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an archival location report, Joseph Losey on Secret Ceremony, a look at the source novella, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits
World premiere on Blu-ray Limited edition of 3,000 copies.
A good selection of extras compliment this limited high definition remaster to make for an interestingly sordid baroque viewing experience.
Secret Ceremony
3.0Overall Score
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