Opus Dei lets film director in on some of its secrets

New film to explore history of controversial Catholic sect and its leader

The British film-maker Roland Joffe, who made his mark with his religious drama The Mission about crusading Jesuits in the Brazilian jungle, is to tackle an even more controversial chapter in the history of Catholicism: Opus Dei. Joffe is to recreate the life and miracles of Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer, the Spanish priest who founded one of the most influential and secretive organisations within the Catholic church, and was canonised in 2002. The film seems set to stir up more controversy, following in the wake of several screen hits tapping into public fascination with tales of Opus-inspired crimes and conspiracies, which have set Vatican chasubles aflap.

The Opus furiously condemned the blockbusting Da Vinci Code in 2006, and its sequel Angels and Demons currently topping the bestseller lists. Opus members were banned from seeing or talking about Javier Fesser's award-winning Camino, 2008, about the cult of suffering. By contrast, Joffe's There be Dragons has received Opus Dei's blessing. "The film team asked us for help in gathering information and we gave them access to the documentation. That's the beginning and end of our collaboration with this film," says Luis Gordon, Opus Dei's former information officer. Mr Gordon said he was reserving judgment on the project's merits. The organisation denies reports that it was providing funds.

The plot starts from the present day, when a young London journalist decides to visit his estranged father who is dying in Spain, and mend fences. By chance the young man investigates one of his father's old friends, a priest, now dead, who is a candidate for sainthood.

The action zigzags through the violence and hatred of Spain's Civil War and crosses the Pyrenees to France, as the journalist uncovers the complex friendship that bonded the two men from childhood. Production notes in El Pais newspaper describe the film as "a drama full of passion, betrayal, love and religion... [it] reveals the importance and eternal power of forgiveness".

The Argentine-Spanish-US co-production will be shot over coming months at the pilgrimage site of Lujan in Argentina, and in Spain. The feature will star British actor Charlie Cox, who has worked in Spain with the director, Vicente Aranda.

The film focuses on the early years of Escriva's life during the 1930s, prompting concern that his rise during the Franco years may be brushed over. "This is a propaganda film written and supervised by members of Opus Dei in a desperate attempt to clean up its battered image in the eyes of public opinion," says an anti-Opus blog of former members who say they were "mentally and spiritually diminished" by the organisation.

The Escriva project circulated among Spanish film-makers for some time, stymied by the inability to find an actor for the leading role. Colin Farrell and the Argentine Juan Diego Botto are among those who had the script pass through their hands.

Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer was born in north east Spain in 1902, son of an Aragonese shopkeeper. He studied for the priesthood and moved to Madrid where, in 1928, he founded Opus Dei, a secretive organisation that urged the individual to pursue sanctity through their work and daily life. It became influential during Franco's dictatorship and still retains support among members of Spain's political and economic establishment. Members are reluctant to declare themselves, or their medieval practices.

When Escriva died in Rome in 1975 bishops worldwide clamoured for him to be canonised, which he was in October 2002 by Pope John Paul II in St Peters in Rome. Roland Joffe has long wanted to make a film about Escriva. It was one of this "big projects", he said, along with a movie about the life of the spy Mata Hari.

Prayer and punishment: What is Opus Dei?

*Accused of being secretive, manipulative and fundamentalist, Opus Dei is perhaps the most controversial organisation in the Catholic Church, with critics calling it the "Holy Mafia". The group, whose name is Latin for "Work of God", has around 87,000 members across the world, around 70 per cent of whom are "supernumeraries", who are mainly married male or female professionals.



*There are also numeraries and associates who practice celibacy. The former normally live in communities known as "centres of Opus Dei". Some take part in self-mortification with a lash once a week or through wearing a spiked chain around the thigh for several hours a day. To outsiders, this aspect of physical self-punishment is one of the most baffling.



*To join Opus Dei for life, members have to go through a preparation lasting over five years. Members are also required to donate a proportion of their earnings. The movement does not publish its general accounts and questions surround the wealth of the organisation. The Labour MP Ruth Kelly confirmed last year that she is a member.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world