British actor Ian McKellen has slammed the leaders of the Catholic Church for urging people not to read Dan Brown's controversial novel The Da Vinci Code.

While the book has proved hugely popular internationally, the Vatican's reaction to the way its religion is depicted by Brown has been far from positive.

But McKellen, who recently finished filming a movie version of the book with Tom Hanks, brands the church's stance against the novel "pathetic".

He says, "People are always interested in mystery, but when it's a mystery that suggests that a major influence on all our lives - the Catholic Church - has perhaps been misleading us all this time, then it becomes spectacularly sensational.

"The idea that it shouldn't be read, which I think is the official Vatican line, is pretty pathetic."