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Friday, 20 February, 2004, 16:30 GMT
Can religion and the movies mix?
Life of Brian
Life of Brian poked fun at religious intolerance
The Magdalene Sisters is proving a box office success in Ireland, despite dealing with the painful treatment of girls sent to convents, but it has been scorned by the Vatican.

As religion and the movies have long been uneasy bedfellows, BBC News Online takes a look at films that have sparked controversy through the years.

There is nothing like the threat of a boycott from religious groups to guarantee headlines for a film and ultimately spread the word further than any PR machine could manage.

In the film The Magdalene Sister, Peter Mullan, himself a Catholic, tackled the thorny subject of young girls taken to convents and made to work in the laundries, while subject to abuse by nuns.

The Vatican press and radio were up in arms after his film won the Venice Film Festival's highest accolade.

The film was accused of being based on false facts and Andrea Piersanti, head of an Italian Catholic commission on the performing arts, called it "anti-clerical".

The Magdalene Sisters
The Magdalene Sisters has caused a stir in the Vatican
Mexico has recently had its own battle between religion and film with the release of The Crime Of Father Amaro (El Crimen del Padre Amaro).

The film, which portrays a newly ordained priest having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl, has gone on to break box office records as the highest-grossing home grown film ever.

Wake-up call

"This movie makes fun of the most sacred religious symbols of the Catholic community and of the religious beliefs of Catholics," said the chairman of the Bishops' Conference Luis Morales.

But Father Rafael Gonzalez, spokesman for the Council of Mexican Bishops, saw the movie as a chance for the church to re-examine itself.

"It is a wake-up call for the church, to review its procedure for selecting and training priests, and being closer to the people," he said.

British film Priest, starring Linus Roache and Tom Wilkinson, also touched on the church and sex, this time dealing with sexual abuse in the church and a priest's love for another man.

It was in the US that the loudest voices against the movie where heard, much of it originating from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which claims 200,000 members.

It called on its members to boycott Disney theme parks and products, which part-funded the film, insisting priests were made out to be victims or villains and the Catholic church was being blamed for society's ills.

Trouble ahead

Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ was one of the biggest movies ever to upset the Christian community - who threatened to boycott it even before it had finished filming.

But Scorsese and film company MCA would have foreseen trouble ahead.

When Nikos Kazantzakis' Last Temptation of Christ novel was published in 1955 he was excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church and the book was banned by the Catholic Church.

When Scorsese began work on the movie more than three decades later, there had been little change in attitudes.

The film was accused of blasphemy for its fantasy scenes of Jesus marrying prostitute Mary Magdalene.

A scene from the first Harry Potter film
Harry Potter stands accused of promoting the occult
Crowds of about 10,000 Christians protested outside Universal Studios in Los Angeles when it opened and one group even offered to reimburse MCA's full production costs if the film was pulled.

Channel 4 was inundated with complaints when it screened the film in 1995.

And the dust refuses to settle on the film as lawyers in Chile try to overturn a ban on the film, which dates back to the time of General Augusto Pinochet, on the grounds that it breaches human rights for it to remain banned.

While the Last Temptation of Christ was a serious movie about Jesus - although based on a novel not the gospels - lighthearted films can cause just as much upset.


Life of Brian, from the Monty Python stable, focused on a man born on the same night as Jesus who is continually being confused with the Son of God.

The message of the movie was one of fighing religious intolerance, but it still managed to provoke an outcry and calls for a boycott on its release in 1979.

But films do not have to be directly about the church to incense sections.

Harry Potter stands accused of being an anti-religious book and film because it could encourage children to experiment with the occult.

The congregation of the Christ Community Church in Alamogordo, New Mexico, held a book burning session where Pastor Jack Brock gave a sermon.

"Behind that innocent face is the power of satanic darkness," he said. "Harry Potter is the devil and he is destroying people," he preached.

But there was also a counter-protest as hundreds turned out to accuse Mr Brock of "ignorance".

See also:

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