Remember The Mission, that great 1986 film about eighteenth-century Jesuits in the Paraguayan jungle, starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons? Its British director, Roland Joffe, is making a new Catholic drama - about the early life of Opus Dei and its founder, St Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer.
There be dragons will benefit from Opus Dei collaboration, but it has not been commissioned or financed by the organisation. "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 Opus Dei's former information officer.
The film is an Argentine-Spanish-US co-production which will be shot over coming months at the Marian pilgrimage site of Luján in Argentina before moving to Spain. The film stars a British actor, Charlie Cox, who plays a present-day journalist visiting his estranged father, dying in Spain, to 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 unfolds in the Spanish Civil War, as the journalist explores the complex friendship that bonded the two men from childhood.
"A drama of passion, betrayal, love and faith", say the production notes. "An action-packed story set at a murderous period in history, with lessons for the present in revealing the importance and eternal power of forgiveness.
Opus Dei should be very pleased. Joffe -- The Killing Fields and City of Joy -- is one of the few directors who can make a gripping film while respecting the moral integrity and purpose of his characters. Whether in the Da Vinci Code or Camino, the portrayal of Opus Dei usually has almost nothing to do with the reality. There be dragons looks set to put that right.
And it could turn out to have a much deeper significance.
When Joffe made The Mission, liberation theology was at its strongest in Latin America, and the Jesuits -- remember the six Salvadoran martyrs in 1989? -- were closely identified with it.
The Mission was the story of Jesuits who chose to disobey bishops' orders that they should pull out of the missions and relinquish the Guarani people to the Portuguese slave-traders. They sacrificed their own lives for the poor, against their predators -- one by taking up arms, the other nonviolently. It was impossible not to read the twentieth-century Jesuit story into the sixteenth-century one -- and Joffe, who was reading plenty of liberation theology at the time, encouraged viewers to do so.
So what twentieth-century story will Joffe by trying to tell through the life of a young priest in the Spanish Civil War? What needs to be forgiven? It could well be the divisions of the War itself, from which neither Opus Dei nor Spain have ever quite managed to shake themselves wholly free.