A Hollywood movie based on British author Philip Pullman’s popular children’s books is to be controversially stripped of key religious themes amid fears it will offend Catholic audiences.
|Censorship groups have condemned the move|
The first instalment of the award-winning trilogy, His Dark Materials, will hit cinema screens later this year after the fantasy books captured the hearts of millions of children around the world.
But one of the series’ main themes – the rejection of organised religion and in particular the abuse of power within the Catholic Church – is to be watered down.
The move has been described as “white-washing” by anti-censorship groups.
The controversy centres around the trilogy’s sinister Magisterium, which readers understand to be a thinly veiled attack on the Catholic Church.
But when the film is released in December the Magisterium will be shown as a critique of all dogmatic organisations, thereby avoiding a religious backlash.
Director Chris Weitz confirmed the film’s portrayal of the mythical body will not echo that of Pullman’s books.
He said: “In the books the Magisterium is a version of the Catholic Church gone wildly astray from its roots.
“If that’s what you want in the film, you’ll be disappointed.”
The film, which stars Nicole Kidman and British actor Daniel Craig, is called The Golden Compass after the US title of Pullman’s novel Northern Lights, the first book in the trilogy.
The second volume is called The Subtle Knife, while the final part of the trilogy is called The Amber Spyglass.
Pullman himself expects the film to remain ‘faithful’ to the books he wrote, but the National Secular Society – of which Pullman is an honorary associate – has reacted against the changes.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the society, said: “There is an issue here over the white-washing of religious problems from cinema and literature, especially in America.
“It is wrong that children watching these films should not get the opportunity to see the more balanced picture of religion. ”
“The Catholic Church in particular has had problems in the past that it has tried to cover up – such as child abuse – but these things are much better discussed out in the open. This is part of a long-term problem over freedom of speech.”
The Golden Compass tells the tale of Lyra, a young girl brought up in the cloistered world of Oxford heading off to save her best friend Roger, who has been kidnapped.
Nicole Kidman, who plays the role of Mrs Coulter in the film, said she would not have been comfortable starring in an overtly anti-Catholic production. She told film journalists in the summer: “I would not be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic.”
The Catholic League in the US has made its feelings known over the content of Pullman’s books, while also urging parents to ban their children from watching the forthcoming film. While it acknowledges religious themes have been watered down for cinema, it is still launching a boycott as it says the movie lures kids and their “unsuspecting parents” into reading the books.
It also says The Golden Compass is “the least offensive of the three books” and warns that The Subtle Knife is “more overt in its hatred of Catholicism” and The Amber Spyglass “even more blatant”.
Among the awards Pullman has received for the literature is the 2001 Whitbread Book of the Year for The Amber Spyglass, and the Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction in 1995.