As Salaam Alaykum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu and Greetings.
An arthouse movie refused a licence 20 years ago could be released after repeal of blasphemy law.
A landmark decision to ban a film showing Christ being caressed on the cross on the grounds that it was blasphemous could be reversed after almost 20 years.
The 1989 ruling by the British Board of Film Classification to refuse a release licence for Visions of Ecstasy, a low- budget film depicting the 16th-century Spanish mystic St Teresa of Avila caressing the body of Jesus on the cross provoked a national furore.
While the film's director, Nigel Wingrove, believed he was making art, the board, under its heavily censorious director James Ferman, took a different view and said its mix of pornography and religion risked upsetting the Anglican Church. Now, however, in a sign that Britain's social mores have moved on, Craig Lapper, of the board's examining body, has invited Wingrove to resubmit the film for classification.
The invitation comes ahead of the repeal in June of the blasphemy law, which has long been a source of anger for those working in the creative industries who complain it is an archaic piece of legislation that stifles art.
A decision to allow the film's release would bring to an end one of the most controversial chapters in British cinematic history. Coming amid the arguments surrounding Salman Rushdie's provocative novel The Satanic Verses, the board's decision was seen as an attack on freedom of speech by organised religion. The debate raged all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which upheld the decision to ban the love scene, thereby killing the film's release.
Wingrove, now a distributor of horror movies, said the suggestion he should resubmit his most notorious work had come 'completely out of the blue' and that he was in two minds about whether to agree. 'If I made the film now I would make it very differently,' he said. 'I was exploring areas of dark eroticism, but I had worked chiefly in prints, not films. People say I should put it out, but on a personal level I have reservations. If I did release it, I would need to put it into context and perhaps release a documentary to accompany it.'
Wingrove has had a number of skirmishes with the board, which he believes is now largely 'irrelevant' because the internet has circumvented its ability to censor. Several horror films he tried to distribute in the 1980s were also banned after concerns about the relationship between violent films and young people which were prompted by the killing of the toddler Jamie Bulger.
But Visions of Ecstasy was Wingrove's most famous battle with the board and one he did not see coming. 'I can be incredibly naive,' he said. 'I was gobsmacked by the reaction. I can see why some people might have been offended, but it was pretty mild stuff really.'
Nevertheless, the obscure film became a focal point of political protest as the barrister Geoffrey Robertson took up Wingrove's case and a campaign was launched to secure the film's release. 'A lot of people had their own agenda,' Wingrove said. 'They wanted the law of blasphemy repealed.'
He likened the courtroom battle in Strasbourg to a scene from the Nuremberg trials with 'all those people pontificating on my little 19-minute film; it was absurd'.
Now, however, Wingrove may find himself an unwitting cause célèbre again as secular groups encourage him to seek a release licence as a way of signalling the death knell of the blasphemy law.
'The restraining effect of the blasphemy law on artists and writers has long been a blot on Britain's tradition of free speech,' said Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society. 'It has put into the hands of bigots a weapon to punish those who want to criticise or satirise religion. We hope that the BBFC will now give a certificate to Visions of Ecstasy as a signal to film makers that they need no longer censor themselves when exploring religious themes.'
A board spokeswoman stressed the invitation to Wingrove to resubmit his film for classification was Lapper's personal decision. 'Craig was being helpful,' the spokeswoman said, pointing out that the repeal of the blasphemy law in June probably convinced Lapper that the time was right to review the film's ban.
It would not just be anti-censorship campaigners who would welcome the film's release. 'I was in Soho recently and bumped into the guy who played Jesus,' Wingrove said. 'He said he'd never seen the film and asked if he could have a copy.'