Money, not Christianity, behind abbey's rejection of 'Da Vinci Code', says Sir Ian
It is one of the most eagerly awaited films of recent years and is based on one of the biggest-selling novels in recent history, but the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code has already provoked an unholy row long before it has finished shooting.
Sir Ian McKellen, the acclaimed British actor who is playing the historian Sir Leigh Teabing in the £40 million adaptation, has suggested that officials at Westminster Abbey - who had said that they refused permission for the film to be shot there because of religious objections to the book - were actually only too willing to take part, but pulled out at the 11th hour for "financial reasons".
Sir Ian, 66, who this week joined co-stars Tom Hanks, the double-Oscar-winning actor, and the actress Audrey Tatou - who came to fame in the unexpected French hit Amelie in 2001 - on location at the 15th-century Rosslyn Chapel, in Midlothian, made the comments on his website.
Sir Ian speculated that the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Dr Wesley Carr, refused permission for purely financial reasons, rather than the official reasons given by the abbey, which were based on religious objections.
The actor, who starred as Gandalf in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, said: "Although the initial discussions with the dean there went well, eventually and rather abruptly, permission to film in situ was refused.
"As no explanation for this reversal has been forthcoming, dark rumours worthy of Dan Brown's own imagination have been whispered abroad."
After speculating that the abbey might have pulled out for fear of upsetting the Royal Family, he continued: "More mundanely, perhaps the proposed financial arrangements were deemed insufficient by the abbey's chapter."
Sir Ian's version of events differs remarkably from that offered by Westminster Abbey, which has always maintained that it would be "inappropriate" to allow scenes to be filmed on its premises.
In an earlier statement, staff at the abbey said that they could not "commend or endorse the contentious and wayward religious and historical suggestions made in the book - nor its views of Christianity and the New Testament".
Sir Ian contrasts the abbey's refusal to take part with the co-operation offered by other buildings featured in the book including the Louvre Museum, the Château de Villette, and the Rosslyn Chapel, where filming was still taking place this weekend.
Sir Ian says that the decision of Lincoln Cathedral to stand in as Westminster Abbey made a mockery of the abbey's own position. He writes: "Whatever the abbey's true objections, none of them seemed to apply in Lincoln when its cathedral was promptly scouted and happily cast in the role of Westminster Abbey.
"As both magnificent buildings, founded nigh on 1,000 years ago, were constructed at the same time, on screen Lincoln will appear to be Westminster: ironical to say the least, if the abbey's hope had been to avoid any association with the heretical plot of the book and film."
The abbey's refusal to take part is in stark contrast to the assistance being offered by Lincoln Cathedral, which was paid £100,000 by the film's producers and which opened its doors to the cast and crew in August.
The Dean of Lincoln's views of the film, which have been posted on the cathedral's website, couldn't be more different to those of the abbey.
In his statement the Very Rev Alec Knight states: "The book is not in our view offensive to the Christian faith, merely speculative and far-fetched.
"It is not blasphemous in that it does not denigrate God in any way … The Da Vinci Code stimulates debate and the search for truth and we are glad to be part of this process."
A spokesman for Westminster Abbey would not be drawn on Sir Ian's comments last night. She said that the abbey stood by its original statement and insisted that the dean had never taken part in any direct discussions with the film's producers. She said that the abbey's Receiver General had talked to the film's producers before deciding not to proceed. The dean and chapter then decided not to proceed. Sir Ian, who is homosexual, has often courted controversy in Church circles because of his views on same-sex relationships.
When staying in hotels the actor will take it upon himself to rip out pages of the Bible that are critical of homosexuality.
Dan Brown's novel, which claims that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, has sold more than three million copies in Britain alone and is on course to become the second-biggest selling book in publishing history - after the Bible.
The film, which is being directed by the Oscar-winning Ron Howard, who can count this year's Cinderella Man among his hits, will be released next year.
Dr Carr, who is suffering from Parkinson's disease, has announced that he is to retire next year.