The time is the 18th Century and in this convent young Justine (Koo Stark) lives with her sister Juliette (Lydia Lisle), though today they have stumbled across the burial of their parents in unconsecrated ground thanks to their supposed hellbound lifestyle in the opinion of the church. Justine especially is most upset about this, and retires to her cell to feel sorry for herself, though there is more trouble afoot for the sisters. Juliette keeps herself occupied by having sex with her fellow nuns, but Justine is very pious, far more pure than anyone else around her - and that includes the members of the clergy...
Cruel Passion was based loosely on the novel Justine by The Marquis de Sade, though for most of the running time it seemed to be part of that strain of bucolic British historical cinema ushered in by Tony Richardson's Tom Jones back in the sixties. When it wasn't courting comparisons to that, it resembled one of those Hammer adventures which told tales of derring do, though with a more glum appearance than their competitors might have manufactured, and dabbling in the horror which they were best known for. The shocks here were not exactly plentiful, surprising for a film drawn from this source, but when it got around to the nastiness it was more enthusiastic.
More enthusiastic than it was about the plot, the acting, the atmosphere, or really much else about a production which intended to supply the racy stuff to a paying audience, but in effect probably left them feeling pretty down, or at least you'd hope so considering what happened to the heroine by the end. If you genuinely thought her spiritual purity deserved nothing more than corruption, then this would find favour with you, but Stark, not offering much charisma as if she wasn't particularly happy about accepting the role, did not attract anything in the way of having us see de Sade's point of view, not that there was a whole lot of his depraved scribblings left in director Chris Boger's movie.
Which was the only one he ever made, so either he was so satisfied with his work here he never gave thought to making another, or the British film industry was getting into such dire straits that he was never able to bring another project to fruition. As for Stark, she made a minor name for herself in softcore such as this, Emily being her best-known example, but then went onto be Prince Andrew's girlfriend until rumours of the toffs not being best pleased with her line of work made him break the relationship off. She continued to act with photography her main source of income, but it's for a film that she never appeared in which she was most famous: Koo was in Star Wars, then cut out providing one of the most celebrated lost scenes of all time.
All of which was a lot more interesting than the freezing-looking countryside scenes which had you admiring her hardiness for stripping off in such conditions, not to mention suffering the indignities the narrative visited upon her character. Basically it was concerned with who would take Justine's virginity, and she managed to hold onto her virtue for practically the whole movie, though not for others' want of trying: in the first half hour she is ravaged by the Mother Superior though apparently that doesn't count. When Justine and Juliette are chucked out of the convent for lack of funds, amongst other things, the elder sister decides they must learn the tricks of the whoring trade to snag a nobleman, and when they meet Martin Potter as Lord Carlisle on the stagecoach he seems a likely candidate. Yet while Juliette throws herself into this with gusto, Justine runs away and meets a succession of vile characters, until the final five minutes which may have replicated the moral bankruptcy of de Sade, but period Last House on the Left-style stuff is no fun at all.