Penelope Cruz under fire over matador movie

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The actress Penelope Cruz has been caught up in an animal rights row as she co-stars in a forthcoming Spanish film about Manolete, the legendary matador who was gored to death in the bullring at the peak of his fame.

It's not the first time that the Spanish star's loyalties have been torn between animal rights and her compatriots' enthusiasm for bullfighting.

Cruz is known as an active supporter of animal rights who doesn't wear fur and whose contracts carry a clause saying she will not work on any film involving cruelty to animals.

But activists are not happy at her participation in a film that celebrates bullfighting. In the movie, Cruz plays the voluptuous actress Lupe Sino, with whom Manolete, played by Oscar winner Adrien Brody, had a turbulent affair in the 1940s.

"We deplore something that promotes as a hero a man who dedicated his life to killing and torturing bulls," the Spanish animal rights campaigner Manuel Casas told The Independent on Sunday.

Cruz prompted outrage among bull-fighting aficionados in 2001 when the mayor of Pamplona complained of receiving a letter from the star, calling for an end to the town's famous bull-running festival. She was said to have been leaned on by her father, a lover of bullfighting, to deny having written such a letter.

The actress said she might once have signed an artists' petition against animal cruelty, but she accepted that bull running and bullfights were "part of Spanish culture".

The producers of Manolete plan to use computer-generated effects and archive footage in bullfight scenes, and promise no animals will be harmed during filming.