Oscar-nominated director who lost his way aims to make a comeback with a movie on the founder of the controversial Opus Dei.
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31 Aug 2009 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 6:30 PM

Roland Joffé is an atheist but he's praying that his latest movie, There Be Dragons, a drama based on the founder of the Opus Dei movement, will restore his fading reputation.

The 63-year-old Brit has spent years out of the mainstream after scoring Oscar nominations in the 1980s for The Killing Fields, a gripping tale of genocide in Cambodia, and The Mission, which followed Jesuit missionaries who defend a South American tribe from Portuguese slave traders.

Currently shooting in Argentina and Spain, There Be Dragons is a fictional work based on the true story of Jose Maria Escrivá de Balaguer, the Spanish priest who in 1928 founded Opus Dei, the Catholic movement which has about 87,000 members worldwide.

Opus Dei, of course, got a bad rap in Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code and in Ron Howard's subsequent movie, which portrayed it as a murderous cult that has infiltrated the Vatican, politics and business.

The project was initiated by Heriberto Schoeffer, a Los Angeles producer and member of Opus Dei, is partly financed by the group's members and has employed an Opus Dei priest as a consultant—but Joffé insists he has complete creative control and that Opus Dei isn't exerting any influence.

Schoeffer originally showed the script by former nun Barbara Nicolosi to Chariots of Fire director Hugh Hudson, another Brit who's long been out of favour, but he rejected it as “pro-Franco.” He then brought it to Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican director of Babel and 21 Grams, who found it too complicated.

Joffé ditched that script and set out to write a new screenplay, inspired by Escrivá's ideas about the power of forgiveness and the capacity of every human for sainthood. “I was very interested in the idea of embarking on a piece of work that took religion seriously on its own terms and didn't play a game where one approached religion denying its validity,” he told The New York Times.

Joffé's plot centres on a young journalist investigating a candidate for canonization, who discovers that his estranged father has a long-buried connection to Escrivá. The ensemble cast includes Charlie Cox as Escrivá, Wes Bentley as the father, Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, Golshifteh Farahani, Geraldine Chaplin and Derek Jacobi.

About 100 investors stumped up the $30 million budget, according to Ignacio G. Sancha, the lead producer, financier and lawyer who's also a member of Opus Dei.

The director will be hoping to wipe out the bitter memories of his most recent film, the 2007 thriller Captivity, which was widely panned as one of the worst examples of the torture porn genre and grossed a miserable $2.6 million in the US and $8.3 million in the rest of the world.