The Young Pope: A look back at last year's TV masterpiece
Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope, is a beautifully fascinating, if complex piece of TV watching. It a sensational depiction of the inner workings of the Vatican and the power struggle of the Pope, in this instant the rather villainous new comer Pope Pius XIII. Jude Law takes on the role of Pope Pius and in him we find the youngest Pope to arrive in spectacular fashion; he is surprisingly nasty, self-serving and unabashedly megalomaniac; unlike nothing the Vatican and its handful of citizens have ever seen.
Jude Law is Lenny Belardo, a US catholic priest who makes it to the highest position in Catholicism. The show starts at the point where Lenny, now named Pope Pius XIII, is inaugurated into his role. However, Pope Pius turns out to be not as traditional as his predecessors, he has a different agenda; one that is narcissistic with no qualms about his lack of niceties or appearing cruel. Pope Pius brings to mind of House of Cards' Frank Underwood, similar in their habitual scheming and conniving to get their own way at any cost. The story continues to unfold, as the Vatican braces itself for the confusion this new Pope creates. Pius refuses to show his face to the public or to partake in any of the formalities that come with the anointment of a new Pope.
We see secondary protagonists in Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) who raised the orphan Lenny as her own child along with his ‘brother’ Andrew Dussolier (Scott Shepherd). Lenny in s blatant act of nepotism flies in Sister Mary from the US making her his right-hand aid, and anoints Andrew to Cardinal. We see Italian actor Silvio Orlando as the plotting Cardinal Chief Angelo Voiello, who is set on discrediting Pius at every corner. Further characters we see Javier Cámara as the weak alcoholic Monsignor Bernardo Gutierrez, who momentarily becomes an ally of Pius and the dashing French actress Cecile De France as Sofia, the Vatican’s marketing officer.
Jude Law is absolutely spot as the young Pope Pius; he portrays this unfortunately handsome and incredibly arrogant flawed villain, superbly. It is an extremely flamboyant performance, with a wide emotional spectrum allowing Law’s acting to truly shine. Pope Pius is equal parts cut throat as he is sensitive, he is unscrupulous as he is reflective and he is equally evil as he devout to his God; a complete contradiction.
Sorrentino’s beautiful directing style and his incredible use of the lush aesthetics give the show a cinematic feel. His recent exquisite films such as the colourful and decadent The Great Beauty as well as last year’s English speaking and equally mesmerizing Youth and like these offering, The Young Pope exhibits the same vivid directing style. The show is littered throughout with welcomed interruption of elaborate yet subtle filler scenes of happenings in and around the Vatican; with its abundance of tradition, grand architecture and religious paraphernalia, which provide for sublimely rich, visual fodder. Furthermore, Sorrentino manages to subvert these archaic rituals, injecting them with punk rock elements; whether it’s using flashy guitar pop music to accompany an otherwise intimate religious ceremony, images of nuns smoking cigarettes, scenes of nudity or even of full blown sex with the Pope watching.
I could not praise the show’s positive aspects enough, however there was one thing that I felt nagging at me. Like in House of Cards, specifically with Frank Underwood’s character, there is a sense of glamorisation of bad behaviour and the predictably factor that comes with that. The show tries to explain the root of Pius’ emotional discord; such as the yearning to discover his biological parents, the feelings of rejection. Even in moments where we see his softer side, where he contemplates over his actions or admits to his weaknesses in prayer, or in confession. However, it is simply not enough to justify his overall bad demeanour which I found often jarring, unnecessary, repetitive and making it occasionally tricky to watch.
Despite this, maybe Sorrentino is giving us true indication of what exactly goes on behind the Vatican doors. Perhaps a Pope is egocentric; he does treat his people around him like little servants; maybe behaviour like that isn’t only reserved for spoilt rock stars. Whatever the truth maybe; Sorrentino has produced a beautiful piece of television.