But the film is now to be released in its original, uncut form after the British Board of Film Classification overturned its original decision. DVDs of the film will go on sale tomorrow, at the start of Holy Week.
The low-budget, arthouse production is about St Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century Spanish nun and mystic who had visions of Christ, which lasted almost uninterrupted for two years. The 18-minute film is an interpretation of these visions and includes sexual scenes involving St Teresa and another woman, who represents her psyche. These are intercut with shots of the nun lying on Christ, who is still nailed to the Cross, and caressing him. The film was inspired by St Teresa in Ecstasy, the statue by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the seventeenth century baroque sculptor, which is located in Rome.
James Ferman, the then BBFC director, ruled that the film’s sexual nature would inflame Christians and make it liable to prosecution under the blasphemous libel law. The board considered allowing the film to be shown with the offending sequence removed – but as that would have halved the running time, it said the only option was to refuse a certificate. The furore at the time was such that one Conservative MP, Sir Graham Bright, called for the film negatives to be destroyed as part of the banning order.
However, the film, which featured three little known actors and music by Steve Severin of 1980s band Siouxsie And The Banshees, became a cause célèbre among anticensorship campaigners, among them Salman Rushdie and Fay Weldon, the authors, and Derek Jarman, the late filmmaker.