Recently, in anticipation of seeing No Time to Die (2021) in the cinema, I re-watched all Daniel Craig’s James Bond films. Ten-odd hours of shooting, car chases and gratuitous close-ups later, I had learnt something new about Bond – he’s Catholic. Or, at least, he comes from a family of Catholics. In Skyfall (2012), Bond and M travel back to his family home – on bleakest Scottish moorland – to lure a villain into a fireball trap. Luckily there is means of escape before the house explodes, via an old Priest Hole that leads out onto the moor, emerging near a private chapel that must be part of the estate. All of this implies that Bond’s family were recusants, secret Catholics during the persecutions, and that therefore Bond is at least culturally Catholic. Digging a little deeper we find the scene in For Your Eyes Only (1981) where Roger Moore’s Bond goes to confession. Admittedly it’s in a Greek Orthodox Church, and is a liaison with Q; but nevertheless he clearly knows the form, entering the box and intoning “Forgive me father for I have sinned,” solemnly. (“That’s putting it mildly, 007,” Q replies). All of which got me thinking: are there other unlikely Catholics, operating in front of our very eyes on the silver screen, their faith hidden by the vastness of the plot but lurking behind, there to see for anyone who cares to search?
Widely credited with being the inspiration for the new generation, beefed-up Bond films, the Bourne franchise (2002-2016) centres around a CIA assassin who is suffering from amnesia. Cue plenty of action sequences, beautiful girls and impressive locations, of course. But in the whirl of fights and flirtation, it is easy to overlook one key clue to Bourne’s true identity: in a brief close-up of his dog tag, his real name and blood type are revealed, along with the fact that Bourne is Catholic. Perhaps hand-to-hand combat and less reliance on gadgets aren’t the only things that the Bond series borrowed from Bourne.
The little man with the curled-up moustache and overabundance of little grey cells may use more cerebral methods to solve crimes than Bond and Bourne, but he does have one thing in common with them: Poirot is also Catholic. Agatha Christie herself wrote that Poirot is Catholic by birth, and there are sporadic references to his attending church throughout the series. In the 2018 adaptation for the BBC, The ABC Murder, screenwriter Sarah Phelps decided to amp up the Catholic element for John Malkovich’s Poirot. “You know what?” she said in an interview with America magazine. “I think that brimmed hat is a saturno. And that gray overcoat is his soutane. I think that watch chain is a rosary.” She also pointed out that Poirot refers to himself a number of times as “Papa” and addresses others as “mes enfants”. In the series, there are flashbacks showing Poirot as a country Priest whose church is set alight by invading German troops. An unorthodox interpretation, perhaps, but no less likely for it.
Most remember Greta Gerwig’s 2017 directorial debut for its star turn from Saoirse Ronan and the uncomfortable portrayal of mother-daughter tension and tender love scenes. It’s easy to forget that the setting for Lady Bird is a Catholic girls’ school in Sacramento, California, and that the title character’s revelation at the end of the film occurs after attending a church service. Lady Bird’s cult status and cool-girl tropes obscure the central themes of the film, which are grace, forgiveness and love.
The beloved American adult cartoon sitcom Family Guy is known for its zany humour, talking dog and middle-America family. It’s sarcastic, daring and satirical. It’s also about a family of Catholics. In early series, the Griffins are shown attending the Holy Christ Church, and paterfamilias Peter comes from a devoutly Catholic family. This should be taken with a pinch of salt, though: the 2005 episode The Father, the Son, and the Holy Fonz outraged the Catholic League for its flippant treatment of religion – even though Peter Griffin is won back by the One True Church at the end.
In another controversial cartoon, Bart and Homer Simpson attempt to convert to Catholicism – against the wishes of ‘Presbylutheran’ Marge. Bart becomes an accidental prophet whose teachings spark a religious war 1,000 years in the future. The episode – The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star, also from 2005 and including Liam Neeson doing a turn as hip priest Father Seann -– was actually praised by the Vatican broadsheet L’Osservatore Romano for its discussion of the issues of religion.
The Incredible Hulk
Known for his anger issues, the Hulk may not scream Catholic values, but the big green superhero is in fact a Papist – as confirmed by L’Osservatore Romano in a 2013 article ahead of the release of Superman film Man of Steel which examined the faith of various comic book characters. The article cited various times Dr Bruce Banner – the Hulk’s pre-transmogrification persona – is shown with a rosary, and confirmed that a Catholic priest presided over his wedding. These indicators “unequivocally” reveal his faith. He might need a double session in the confessional booth, though.
This brief survey doesn’t include genuine Catholic characters – almost all silver-screen mobsters, for example, come from large Italian-American Catholic families – nor those whose Catholicism is central but slowly revealed, such as President Josiah Bartlet from The West Wing. But it does illustrate how prevalent Catholic culture is in popular entertainment.
Granted, with the exception of Lady Bird, the Catholicism of these characters doesn’t necessarily add much to the plot per se; but it speaks of hidden depths, of selves beyond the perimeters of the cellulose film. And it shows that once you start looking, Catholics abound. Whether Bond has a Damascene moment remains to be seen (no spoilers here), but he – and many others – are at least on the road to Damascus. We’ll see them there.
Violet Hudson is a freelance journalist
This article first appeared in the November 2021 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today.
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