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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss