AUTHOR Philip Pullman yesterday attacked claims that a film based on his award-winning children’s books is being “watered down” to avoid offending the Catholic Church.
Refuting reports that the content of the film had been censored to avoid similar controversy to that attracted by films like The Da Vinci Code, the popular writer said he had worked closely with the producers of the first instalment of the His Dark Materials trilogy and was pleased with the results.
But he would not comment on the film’s actual content saying, “Why not wait and see.”
The film, called The Golden Compass, stars Nicole Kidman, pictured, and Daniel Craig and will be released in the UK on December 7.
It had been reported that the movie had been stripped of key religious themes to avoid offending Christian groups.
The fantasy books have been a hit with millions of children around the world, but it has been claimed that one of the series’ main themes – the rejection of organised religion and, in particular, the abuse of power within the Catholic Church – had been “watered down”.
The controversy centres around the trilogy’s sinister Magisterium, which some readers have identified as a thinly-veiled attack on the Catholic Church.
However, it had been reported that the film shows the Magisterium as a critique of all dogmatic organisations, in order to avoid a religious backlash.
It is said that this has angered anti-censorship groups.
But Pullman, who was educated in Harlech, Gwynedd, hit back at the reports, adding that he had also heard of attacks on the film by groups in America who called it “propaganda” that encouraged people to read “religious books”.
He told the Western Mail, “This must be the only film attacked in the same week for being too religious and for being anti-religious – and by people who haven’t seen it.”
The film is currently being edited but director Chris Weitz has already said its portrayal of the mythical body would not echo that of Pullman’s books.
He said, “In the books the Magisterium is a version of the Catholic Church gone wildly astray from its roots. If that’s what you want in the film, you’ll be disappointed.”
The author yesterday refused to reveal any more about the film, although he admitted he was happy with what he had seen during a series of visits to the set.
“I’ve been kept informed with what’s going on – I have very friendly and happy relations with the film-makers and I’m very happy with what they are doing,” he said.
“All these stories have been generally mischievous and they have all been written without knowledge of what the film is like.
“As far as I know, these people have not seen the script or shots of the film.”
Pullman added, “It’s a very complicated special effects film so it’s taking a very long time to get right.
“The last I heard, they were recording the music with a very big orchestra in London.”
The Golden Compass tells the story of a young girl called Lyra, who has been brought up in Oxford and is heading off to save her best friend Roger, who has been kidnapped.
In the film, Kidman plays a character called Mrs Coulter, who takes Lyra under her wing.
The Oscar-winning actress has previously said that she would not be happy starring in an overly anti-Catholic production.
She said, “I would not be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic.”
Educated in Harlech
PHILIP PULLMAN, 61 next Friday, was born in Norwich and educated in Harlech, Gwynedd.
His father, an RAF pilot, was killed in a plane crash in 1953 when Pullman was seven. His mother remarried and with a move to Australia came Pullman’s discovery of comic books including Superman and Batman, a medium which he continues to espouse.
From 1957, he was educated at Ysgol Ardudwy school in Harlech. Around this time Pullman discovered John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which would become a major influence for His Dark Materials.
Pullman attended Exeter College, Oxford, and later began teaching children and writing school plays.
His first published work was The Haunted Storm, which jointly won the New English Library’s Young Writer’s Award in 1972. Galatea, an adult fantasy-fiction novel, followed in 1978, but it was his school plays which inspired his first children’s book, Count Karlstein, in 1982.
He now lives near Oxford and is a full-time writer.
PHILIP PULLMAN began writing His Dark Materials in about 1993. The trilogy of novels comprises of Northern Lights (which will be released on film as The Golden Compass) published in 1995, The Subtle Knife (1997) and The Amber Spyglass (2000).
The trilogy follows the coming of age of two main characters, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, as they wander through a “multiverse” of parallel universes and a backdrop of epic events. The story begins in Northern Lights with fantasy elements such as witches and armoured bears.
Although the series is marketed to young adults, the audience includes many older readers.