Secret Ceremony (1968) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Leonora, a prostitute, mourns the death by drowning years earlier of her daughter. She encounters a strange waif-like girl, Cenci, who bears a strong resemblance to her lost child. Cenci is herself struck by the great resemblance of Leonora to her own mother, whose death the mentally unstable Cenci has been unable to accept or even acknowledge. The two women quickly develop a symbiotic relationship, moving in and out of the illusion that each is the lost loved one of the other. The complicating factor is the arrival of Albert, Cenci's stepfather, whose incestuous attachment to her may well be the cause of her mind's unbalance. With Albert's arrival, no one in the strange trio is safe.

  • A penniless woman meets a strange girl who insists she is her long-lost mother, and becomes enmeshed in a web of deception, and perhaps madness, in this powerful psychological thriller.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • While riding on a bus in London, Leonora, a fading prostitute, discovers that she is being stared at by Cenci, a sad-faced younger woman who bears a remarkable resemblance to Leonora's deceased daughter. Cenci follows Leonora to her daughter's grave and invites her to the shuttered old mansion where she lives. There, Leonora learns that she closely resembles Cenci's dead mother. Touched by Cenci's need for love and intrigued by the luxury surrounding her, Leonora succumbs to the young girl's wish that she stay on and live with her as her mother.

    Explaining to Cenci's two greedy aunts, Hilda and Hannah, that she is the dead mother's sister, Leonora assumes her role with ease, settles down to a life of comfort, and becomes devoted to the child-like Cenci. Eventually, however, Leonora learns that Cenci is really 22 years old, that her stepfather, Albert, was banished from the house for attempting to seduce her, and that her mother was hopelessly insane.

    Returning to the mansion one day, Leonora finds Cenci cowering under a table after a visit from Albert. Cenci convinces Leonora that she has been raped by her stepfather, and the two leave for the seashore. Albert follows and confronts Leonora with the fact that Cenci is a sexual psychotic who has repeatedly tried to seduce him. Realizing the truth of his statement, which is supported by Cenci's infantile attempt to appear pregnant by stuffing her dress with a doll, Leonora desperately tries to force Cenci to face reality. Instead, Cenci seeks out Albert on the beach, consummates her love for him, and sends Leonora away.

    A short time later, Leonora visits Cenci, asks to be forgiven, and pleads for the chance to resume their former relationship. But Cenci sends her away once more and then commits suicide. When Leonora and Albert meet in silence at Cenci's funeral, Leonora pulls out a knife and plunges it into Albert, killing him.

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