LONDON (The Blaze/AP) -- A victory for freedom of expression? The only movie ever banned in Britain for blasphemy was finally approved for distribution Tuesday, 23 years after it was outlawed.
The experimental short film "Visions of Ecstasy" features scenes of Jesus being seduced on the cross and became a free-speech cause celebre after Britain's film censors refused to give it a rating, a requirement for legal distribution.
The British Board of Film Classification ruled in 1989 that a fantasy scene in which the Spanish mystic St. Teresa of Avila sexually caresses Christ's body could constitute blasphemous libel. The board judged that cutting out the potentially blasphemous material would shorten the 19-minute film by half, so they refused to approve it.
The movie, directed by Nigel Wingrove, became a rallying point for anti-censorship activists, and Wingrove fought the ban all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, which upheld the British decision in 1996.
Wingrove - dubbed "Britain's answer to Hustler publisher Larry Flynt" by London's Evening Standard newspaper - went on to found film distribution companies specializing in erotic gothic horror. He also has created artwork for the band Cradle of Filth and manages a burlesque group.
Blasphemy was abolished as an offense in 2008 and on Tuesday the film board gave Wingrove's film an "18" rating, meaning it may be viewed by adults.
The board acknowledged the film would be "deeply offensive to some viewers," but was unlikely to cause harm.
"In the absence of any breach of U.K. law and the lack of any credible risk of harm, as opposed to mere offensiveness, the board has no sustainable grounds on which to refuse a classification to 'Visions Of Ecstasy' in 2012," it said in a statement.
Wingrove welcomed the decision and said the ban had been a setback to his career.
"It was my second self-financing film and had it not been banned I would have continued to make films, but that all got knocked sideways and had a huge impact on my career," he said.
"I don't believe it should have been banned in the first place. No one in the church thought it was blasphemous. Some believed it could be viewed as offensive but that it fell well short of blasphemy," he added.
Editor's Note: The Blaze declined to embed clips from the film due to their graphic nature.