THE Da Vinci Code has created controversy on its way to becoming the second biggest-selling book in publishing history after the Bible.
Now, hot on the heels of the blockbuster film version starring Tom Hanks, an ITV thriller with a remarkably similar theme has started filming in Liverpool and Southport.
Sumptuous settings such as the Vatican Office, the Bank of England and the medieval cathedrals and castles of Malta are all being recreated in the region for a one-off feature length pilot called The Outsiders.
The show is being produced for ITV by Mersey Television, the company started by Phil Redmond which has been responsible for a string of television hits such as Brookside, Hollyoaks and Grange Hill.
The Outsiders stars Brian Cox, star of such Hollywood blockbusters as Troy and The Bourne Identity, and Nigel Harman, the former EastEnders heart-throb whose first major role it is since his defection from the BBC late last year.
Harman, 32, stars as a member of a top-secret international espionage ring based deep in the bowels of the British Library.
His character, Nathan, becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding a bizarre claim that the 17th-century Dutch artist Rubens, a devout Catholic, tried to suppress a formula for eternal life because he feared it would undermine the existence of God.
Nathan and his fellow spies must have their deaths faked and their funerals arranged in order to ensure anonymity as they chase across the globe for clients such as the Vatican and the British Government.
Many of the locations they visit, such as the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, are similar to those in The Da Vinci Code, which has sold more than 40m copies worldwide.
The globe-spanning pilot episode is set in a variety of locations in Malta, Paris, Barcelona and London, which, apart from some location footage, will all be re-created in the city. Among the locations being used is The Athenaeum in Church Alley, Liverpool city centre.
Sacha Taylor-Cox, spokeswoman for Mersey TV, said the action adventure film was one of a number of new shows being created by the company, which was sold last year to London-based production group All3media by its founder Phil Redmond and his fellow directors.
Ms Taylor-Cox described the style of the show as similar to classic 1960s thriller series such
as The Avengers, with a strong undercurrent of The Da Vinci Code in its storyline.
She said: "It's a modern-day version of The Avengers, but more down-to-earth and more gritty.
"There are great things happening at Mersey TV this year with four new shows starting, ranging from six-week dramas to one-offs."
The new ITV series, scheduled to be broadcast in the autumn, has been written by Caleb Ranson, who wrote Child of Mine and the David Jason hit Diamond Geezer, with Bafta nominee Bill Boyes producing.
Mr Boyes said the script for The Outsiders was actually written before The Da Vinci Code, and any similarity between the two stories was coincidental.
He said: "We are going back to the roots of the good old-fashioned ITV action dramas of the 1960s."
If the pilot episode is successful, a six-part series will follow.
Earlier this year, a High Court judge ruled that Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown did not plagiarise an earlier book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Both books explore the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child.