Kinsey, the man who turned America on to sex, inflames passions again in controversial film

The man who lifted the sheets on the sex lives of a generation of Americans is once again stirring passions, almost 50 years after his death, thanks to a film which goes on release in New York and Los Angeles tonight.

Dr Alfred Kinsey shocked America in the 1940s and 1950s with his references to oral sex and orgasms. Now the film that bears his name is wowing reviewers and outraging conservative activists.

If Bill Condon, the writer-director of Kinsey , was hoping to tweak a nerve in the United States - a country that manages at once to be prurient and puritanical about sex - he could hardly have asked for better timing. George Bush has recaptured the White House and moral rectitude was the force that helped him.

Portrayed by the Irish actor Liam Neeson, Dr Kinsey represents something else: call it moral and sexual inquiry. The film follows his life, from his marriage to one of his students, played by Laura Linney, to his first steps in recruiting researchers to help him conduct his groundbreaking studies into sexual behaviour in 1948 and 1953.

Audiences will also be able to observe how Dr Kinsey's helpers at Indiana University soon began to explore their own carnal horizons with one another - and with their boss. One scene captures a kiss between Dr Kinsey and the researcher Clyde Martin, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who gradually comes to realise his own bisexuality.

For conservative critics, Condon has committed the crime of making a hero of Dr Kinsey, a figure they regard as responsible for the breakdown of the moral code in the early Sixties and even the onset of Aids. Such is their anger that activists are threatening to picket cinemas showing the film.

"To say that it is rank propaganda for the sexual revolution and the homosexual agenda would be beyond stating the obvious," wrote Tom Neven, who reviewed the film for an influential Christian ministry based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, conceded that Kinsey "wasn't wrong about everything", and that he helped to erase the ignorance in America about the mechanics of sex. But, he added: "A film could have been produced that would have shown that side of Kinsey but also shown the hell that he released. That's part of Kinsey's legacy."

Robert Knight, the director of Concerned Women of America's Culture and Family Institute, said: "Instead of being lionised, Kinsey's proper place is with Nazi Dr Josef Mengele or your average Hollywood horror flick mad scientist."

Mr Condon, whose previous films include Gods and Monsters , described the film as "a sort of litmus test for one's own ideas about sexuality". "Kinsey was a very complex man, in some ways damaged beyond repair," he said. "I thought it was important to present it all, and let people form their own opinions." Some of this "damage" is seen in the relationship between Dr Kinsey and his father, played by John Lithgow.

The director is doubtless prepared for the brickbats of the conservatives. What he will be looking for, however, is Oscar recognition. Some early reviews suggest he might not be disappointed.

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