The Herald (UK), December 31, 2003

Anger at sex change for angel Gabriel

by Brian Pendreigh

SHE has made a reputation for herself by making unusual career choices, but Tilda Swinton is getting ready for what could be her biggest challenge yet – playing the Archangel Gabriel, in a blockbuster comic-book adaptation with Matrix star Keanu Reeves.

Gabriel, who foretold the birth of Christ and revealed the Koran to Muhammad, is traditionally represented as male. But while Swinton's casting could offend Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, it is the fans of the cult Hellblazer comics who seem most outraged by the planned sex change.

The comic-book stories, about a modern sorcerer who has literally been to hell and back, are regarded by their fans as the holy grail of adult comic-book fiction. Gabriel, who is depicted as male in the stories, becomes the arch-enemy of protagonist John Constantine, after Constantine engineers his expulsion from Heaven.

But fans have been outraged by the casting of the Fettes-educated daughter of the Lord Lieutenant of Berwickshire in the film version, which is entitled Constantine.

Hellblazer was created in 1985 by the comic-book writer Alan Moore, whose work is in huge demand with film-makers. In the comics, Constantine is a blond, working-class Liverpudlian and ex-punk-rocker.

The film-makers infuriated fans by making the character American to accommodate Reeves. He teams up with a policewoman, played by Rachel Weisz, to investigate the apparent suicide of her twin, and introduces her to a hinterland of demons and angels in modern Los Angeles.

"I can't understand why they are not casting a man for the role," said one fan on an internet movie database forum. "It seems to me that none of the Warner Bros execs have even bothered to read the comic."

Publicist Paulette Osorio said: "In the script the Archangel Gabriel was not specified as a man or woman but more of an androgynous character."

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