19 DECEMBER 2003

When it comes to critical endorsements, perhaps none could have been more vital to the future of Mel Gibson's oeuvre The Passion Of Christ than that of the Pope. Now the pontiff has apparently given the controversial film, which portrays the final 12 hours of Christ's life, the thumbs up after a private viewing at the Vatican.

Having watched a video of the $35-million flick, the 83-year-old declared: "It is as it was." Producer Steve McEveety, who delivered a video of the film in person, says he was told the Pope found it powerful and intense, and had enjoyed it.

The ailing religious leader, who requested a copy of the movie last month, presumably had something of an advantage over other audiences in being able to understand the Latin and Aramaic dialogue. A decision over whether or not the film will be accompanied by English subtitles when it is released on Ash Wednesday next year has yet to be made.

The film, which stars Angel Eyes actor Jim Caviezel, has come in for criticism from Jewish groups who accuse it of being anti-Semitic. Mel, who has invested $25 million of his own money in the project, belongs to a conservative branch of the Catholic Church which does not recognise the Second Vatican Council, which pronounced that Jews could not be blamed for Christ's death.

Photo: © Alphapress.com
The pontiff, who apparently requested a copy of the film a month ago, was revealed to have enjoyed the Mel Gibson-directed piece focusing on the last 12 hours of Christ's lifePhoto: © AFP
Photo: © Alphapress.com
Angel Eyes actor Jim Caviezel portrays Jesus in the controversial movie