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Home > Media

Catholic gilt

20 August 2005

Filmmakers can be the bravest bastards you could hope to find. Documentary makers have died for their art, for a story they felt had to be told; writers, directors and actors have pushed boundaries every which way; even at the lowest level, people have mortgaged their entire lives and vital organs to gamble on a measly distribution deal.

But it's more often the case that filmmakers are the biggest, frilliest girls' blouses around. Admittedly most of this is down to boring old economic factors - the safe option of filming book adaptations beats the risk of new ideas, as print bestsellers have already proven themselves - but box-office fear and censor appeasement aside, some films are always going to find other corners to cower in. Like little mice. In big mouse blouses.

'The Da Vinci Code' was a publishing sensation when it came out two years ago, and has since bored the bejesus out of billions of commuters. A sort of 'Bridget Jones's Diary' for conspiracy theorists, it was last photographed in the oily hand of Charlotte Church's rugby-player boyfriend on a beach. The archetypal ubiquitous paperback, then, natural successor to 'Captain Corelli's Bewilderingly Popular Public Transport Staple', except with less romantic kerfuffle and more fundamentalist brouhaha.

Crammed with juicy tidbits about what John the Baptist kept under his robes, Jesus hooking up with Mary Magdalene and the peculiar fraternity rituals of Opus Dei (something to do with a keg, a goat and a paddling pool), the book was always going to be a tedious success disproportionate to its quality. Also bound to upset people, also destined to end up on the big screen. 'The Da Vinci Code' - the film - is currently in production, with cute little Ron Howard as director.

And, having missed the chance to guilt-trip author Dan Brown into removing the scurrilous Bibley bits, concerned Christians are massing at the Sony studio gates in an attempt to pressure them into altering the plot. The threat of eternal hellfire may not wash with frazzled execs who put Satan up their nose every night, but that's not going to stop Jesus' little helpers.

Firstly, they want a disclaimer to be added stating that the film is a work of fiction. This is understandable at least - the kind of idiots who'd lie awake at night wondering if St Peter did have a drunken snog with Judas are probably the same kind who might be persuaded to join the Catholic church, so they need to make sure they keep them onside. But what they're really angling for - and what Sony are taking advice on - is a major overhaul. All that stuff about Opus Dei being a bit dodgy? Lose it. The dubiousness about Jesus knocking up some hooker? Throw a heavy shroud of ambiguity over that sucker. And no nudity, or else.

Religious outrage does appear to be the last mulish frontier in filmmaking - three decades since Linda Blair pulled a Kinga with a crucifix, one of the most powerful film studios is on the point of bowdlerising a production to avoid making Christians cry. After '9 Songs', erections will barely raise a brow; yet the next time someone cocks a snook at Christianity, there'll be the same amount of hell to pay as ever. The question must be asked afresh - if their faith is so Hulk-like in its solidity, so Radcliffian in endurance, how can it possibly be shaken by some wag suggesting Jesus was a studmuffin? Quiet dignity in the face of such disposable sacrilege would surely earn them more kudos thanflapping and screeching like a woman who's found a religiously inflammatory spider in the bath.

The massive faff that some groups are making about the film almost gives the ludicrous conjecture in the book a hint of credence. All it serves to do is remind people that the Bible, like 'The Da Vinci Code', is really just another rollicking and incredible bestseller - only a bit stodgy for a holiday read. Anyway, this time it seems inevitable that Sony and Howard will cave in and make a careful, inoffensive thriller, Christians will give thanks, and we'll all gather at the nauseating trough of *plus ca change*. However, some day Paul Verhoeven will sneak out an erotic thriller portraying the Virgin Mary as a knickerless pole-dancer, and then the fun will really start.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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