Based on Alan Burgess’ novel The Small Woman which, in turn, was based on the adventures of a real person, the film has Ingrid Bergman as a rejected missionary in China, who gets there determinedly under her own steam. First met with hostility by the natives, she gradually wins their love and esteem. She falls in love with a Eurasian colonel, converts a powerful mandarin to Christianity and becomes involved in the Chino-Japanese war. Finally she guides 100 children to the safety of a northern mission by leading them on an arduous journey across the rugged mountains and through enemy territory.
The inn in the film is run by Bergman and an elderly missionary (Athene Seyler). Here they dispense hospitality and Bible stories to the muleteers in transit. Bergman’s early scenes as she strives to get to China and begins the urgent task of winning the confidence of the Chinese are brilliantly done with humor and a sense of urgent dedication.
A standout performance comes from Robert Donat as an astute yet benign mandarin. It was Donat’s swansong before his untimely death and only rarely can signs of his physical collapse be detected.
The film was shot in Wales and in the Elstree studio, converted expertly into a Chinese village. Mark Robson’s direction slickly catches both the sweep of the crowd sequences and the more intimate ones.
1958: Nomination: Best Director