The idea of having Jude Law being elected Pope is remote prospect yet within the heightened world created by Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope it is believable. Recently released on DVD/Blu-Ray in the UK and beginning broadcast in the US this week, now is the perfect time to catch up with a beguiling and bold work of television.
The Catholic Church has a new Pope. Lenny Belardo (Jude Law), a young Cardinal from New York, has unexpectedly been elected as Pontiff, selecting the name Pius XIII. The shock of his election and the startling direction of his papacy put him into conflict with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando) and his former mentor Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell). In spite of this, and with the support of his former guardian Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), he begins to mould the Church in his image.
At the heart of Sorrentino’s series is a question: What happens when a seemingly faithless man takes charge of the world’s largest faith? In his quieter moments with his confessor and other confidants, Pius admits that he has no belief in God or the Holy Spirit. But the mystery of whether he is a true believer with serious doubts or is merely using the Church for his own ends remains an interesting through line amidst all the conflict and upheaval Pius creates.
Jude Law is often pigeonholed. His roles either rely on his devilish handsomeness (i.e. The Holiday, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) or play completely against them (his startling turn in Road to Perdition or his scuzzy Dom Hemingway). Here, he has a role that showcases his dramatic range without extra hours in the makeup chair. As Lenny/Pius, Law cuts an enigmatic figure; charming, petty, venal, saint-like, cruel and at points, absolutely terrifying in his zealous vision for the Church, especially his inaugural address to the Vatican crowd. Law commands the screen effortlessly.
Of the supporting cast, Diane Keaton’s Sister Mary is disappointingly peripheral, at least in the early running. Far more impactful is Silvio Orlando’s Voiello. A Vatican insider gradually realising he has underestimated the new Holy Father, he is perfect foil to Law. The show also features the best use of James Cromwell’s talents since L.A. Confidential. As the embittered and overlooked Cardinal Spencer, he delivers what may be the TV line of the year: ‘You’ll be a terrible Pope!’
For all this, The Young Pope is perhaps the dictionary definition of ‘an acquired taste’. The series’ more outré elements (a kangaroo in the Papal gardens, Pius enrobing to LMAFO’s Sexy and I Know It) may test the faith of some. Amidst all the intrigue some subplots, such as the one involving a luminous Ludivine Sagnier, fare better than others (flashbacks to Lenny’s upbringing /desire to find his parents) and though it isn’t the paciest of narratives its premise and lead character more than make up for any meandering. What is inarguable is the show looks absolutely stunning and special mention must go to Sorrentino’s regular cinematographer, Luca Bigazzi, who lends proceedings a distinctive, hypnotic opulence.
In this era of quality television, it is still hard to come across something as distinctive as The Young Pope. Visually arresting, deliberately paced and dreamlike and driven by a star turn by its lead, Paolo Sorrentino’s series makes a singular impact.
The Young Pope is available in Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital in the UK from 26th December 2016, courtesy of Dazzler Media.