Sunday, January 22, 2017

That sexy beast Jude Law is playing Pope- The Young Pope

Europe does it for me.  Italy or to be more precise, Rome surely does it for me.  Anything set in the locale simply ignites the mood for quirky bohemia. Any level of sophistication stops being snobbish. Art and highbrow conversation seem normal. Then there is Vatican. A mythical city-state erected on a tomb. A symbol that can really be leveraged to heighten any emotion, be it conspiracy, power play or simply eye-watering spiritualism laced miracle mongering.  Expectant, devoted, enchanted faces are simply part of the scenery. Awe is an easy state to reach in such situations. Woody Allen and Dan Brown (films on his books) have used both bohemian and awe elements with great felicity. But I digress.

That sexy beast Jude Law is playing Pope- a Young Pope. He is a nightmare for people trying to get out of their smoking habits. Surely, he uses the fag with great oomph.  His loose charms coiled but accessible, are ready to enliven any conceit that Oscar winning Director Paolo Sorrentino conjures to tell a story of intriguing but vacant idea. But I digress.

Jude is not  the only charisma melting the screen. There is Diane Keaton. She is so posh that even in habit she is unbearably stylish. Her nightshirt is a riot (I am a virgin…but that’s an old story), shoes with appealing heels and walk of sophisticated CEO. Verve, solidity and great acting make her a treat to watch. She is a star. But I digress

Silvio Orlando as Cardinal Angelo Voiello, Camerlengo and Cardinal Secretary of State is the fulcrum of the show. In some episode you get a feeling that he is getting more screen time than Jude Law. He is one stout bundle of contradictions. He brings easy comedy, always a tall order, and chutzpah to his role as solid servant of the church. However, his service aspects are deeply hidden as he is a scheming politician and admits to it. A solid and believable performance that is often infused with audacious naughtiness. Again, I digress. There is so much in the show that can make one digress from the beauty of the full package.

The Young Pope premiered on 21 October 2016 on Sky Atlantic in Italy. The series has come to limelight after coming to pay and streaming TV on 15 January this year. The Young Pope is simply great because it is lyrical filmmaking so typical of great Italian directors from Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini and others. Great performances are a given.  Here, Paolo Sorrentino is in good form. His films are funny and maintain a rhythm that traces not only the mood arch of the key protagonist in this case, Jude Law’s Pope, but also has capacity to go whimsy, surreal or plain fun at will. His greatest strength is to take a given moment and create something really enjoyable. Examples aplenty. Pope getting ready to vaguely blasphemous background music (I am sexy, I know it), Secretary of state contemplating Venus of Willendorf, again the Secretary of State following football match dressed in the team uniform, Pope’s dealings with uptight Vatican bureaucracy. Every episode is full of memorable moments Sister Antonia in Africa was painted in very deft free strokes, Pope’s media officer, his two confidante are all not only viable but enjoyable too. Portrayal of innate mysterious powers of the Pope despite his obviously mundane power games are so fine tuned that sympathy remains with him despite his militant anachronistic views.

Storyline is mostly known by now. A 46 year old American Cardinal Lenny Belardo, has been elected as Pope and established powers are imagining a pliable puppet. Rest of the story is how this situation is tackled by the new Pope.  He takes an unorthodox approach to ensure his supremacy while advocating fundamentalist orthodoxy of Catholic Church. Another omnipresent overhang is his mommy issue. As a child he was abandoned by his Hippie parents. The Pope is obsessed with this issue. His detractors say that it is affecting his decision-making.

A word about Jude Law.  The actor in the tradition of Downey Jr (Sherlock to his Watson) and Johnny Depp, is a good tool of engaging flippancy and irreverence. His good looks don’t distract but enhance the contradictions of his situation in the show. He is in sure directorial hands and his timing is impeccable. He is amused, horrified, intrigued and evil with consummate ease. His whining for mommy is surprisingly not very irritating. His heartbreak, solitude and sorrow are sublime. When he cries after the death of his spiritual father and chief competitor (a superb James Cromwell), it is primal and tears our heart out. His star aura is a chief prop for a show that is so openly wedded to extrovert pointing to its own cleverness. 

The show is full of itself, in a good sort of way, exuberance and overt highbrow approach is sustained with unfailing direction quality and impeccable production values. Whenever opulence becomes obscenely lavish, it serves a story purpose. It has been said that the show likes its own voice too much, but then, there is lot to like there.  We do enjoy the beats of electro music that is deployed to perk up a moment. No doubt that the premise while being interesting and intriguing, is flimsy and it is difficult to sustain for 10 lengthy episodes. You can face only that many court intrigues, that many clever strategies to impose your will or keep impressing with arcane, splendid and mythical beauties of the world’s most famous religious seat. This is a great material for a feature length movie (Dan Brown films are examples) but a series is difficult proposition. Sorrentino has manfully handled this problem and his solution is to convey that the characters in the show, despite their exaggerated uniqueness, are not one-dimensional characters.  He takes his time to show the hidden aspects of these characters.

Jude Law while conveying impetuous distracted charm, starts showing real saintly characteristics. The Secretary of State, while being an opportunistic and scheming politician comes out with a much deeper multilayered personality that is deeply devoted to his church. The same is true for other notables. Investigation of the child abuse scandal brought thriller element and sustained the momentum of the show at a critical juncture. The length of the show provides an appropriate platform to fathom the depth and peeling off layers of these characters. In the hands of a director like Sorrentino, this becomes a joyful journey as he infuses it with panache and unpredictable twists. The show never loses its funny core. A memorable outing to the small screen by a proven master of celluloid.   

- Dhiraj Singh


  1. Quite impressive. Well written piece of review. Missed a few nuances as I have not seen the series yet.
    Rajesh Kumar Jha